Book Review: The Art of Saying Goodbye

“Odd, how in the afterglow of someone else’s life, your own looks so much brighter.”

This line from Ellyn Bache’s new novel The Art of Saying Goodbye (William Morrow, 2011), gives you a sense of the glowing feel you will gather from this artful novel.

In the novel, golden girl Paisley suddenly learns she has a late stage cancer. It is unthinkable, and throughout the course of the novel, we see the women who know Paisley re-examining their own lives, revealing secrets and shames, and finding new footing in this redefined world. Instead of a book of darkness and mourning, the author has created a book that is at once real and luminescent, where the characters look beyond sadness to a fuller view of their interlinked worlds.

Bache (whose short story collection The Value of Kindness won the Willa Cather Fiction Prize) has built this novel with a series of chapters that each feel like a perfect little short story all their own. Her writing craft shines, and I found myself eager to pick up the book again and again, feeling that each chapter was a gift I gave to myself to savor.  Give this book to yourself and others, and enjoy!  Highly recommended.

Snippets, Reviews and News

Hey everyone!

Been a busy week here…Something about September that always whips me into action.  I wanted to share some updates with you…

First of all, my new YA novel Over My Head is featured over at a cool blog called Indie Snippets!  The blog features 200 word max excerpts of indie published books.  It’s a great way to glimpse inside a bunch of cool new reads, and you should definitely check it out.  It’s not easy pulling a mere 200 words from a novel in the hopes that it’ll capture a feel for the story, but I’m hoping this excerpt did the trick. Please pop over by clicking here, give it a read (hey, 200 words won’t take long!) and leave a comment there if you can about what you think.

Also, just a few days ago, the book blogging review site All Consuming Books posted a great review of Over My Head. Yeah!  Here’s a bit of what the reviewer there said:

“There’s a lot to enjoy about Over My Head. I truly appreciate how Sang’s heritage is Indian. Ethnic diversity and multiculturalism in YA is something we can definitely use more of. Also, after reading so many books about beautiful paranormal girls falling in love with even more beautiful paranormal boys, it’s just wonderful to read about a totally normal girl. Because normal, average girls are worth knowing and worth reading about.”

The reviewer also posted this on Amazon, giving Over My Head 5 stars there.  YEAH!!!!  To read the whole in-depth review at All Consuming Books, you can click here.

Great reviews have also been popping up on Amazon, and on Goodreads too! Here’s a glimpse at some Goodreads reviews:

– i thought this book was great. I mean it had some sad parts, but it was also funny. i couldn’t put the book down. You gotta love it.

– this is a good beach read (or poolside read since many scenes take place at a pool!) Enjoy!

– I thought this book was great! The parts that were supposed to be funny were absolutely hilarious!

Phew.  When you write stuff, you hope readers will connect with it, but until you actually get some feedback from people? Well, it’s a whole lotta nailbiting going on.

I’ve got a bunch of appearances and talks coming up in the next 2 months, so, if you live in New Jersey, PA or DE, check out where I’ll be, and come visit!  Info is over on my Appearances page.

And, for info on how to pick up your own copy of Over My Head ($2.99 ebook, $12.99 print), you can click here.

Happy reading!

Book Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

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The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman sucked me in from the moment I opened the first page and saw those amazing illustrations.  I sorely miss the illustrations that used to pepper mid-grade novels. I remember as a kid eagerly reading to the next picture, and then the next…then publishers cut these, and we were mostly left with novels that were solid words. But the illustrations in Gaiman’s book pull you in, wrap around the pages, and add to the wonderful mood. Bravo!

The story, though, is what completely entranced me. Gaiman does an amazing job of saying just enough to creep the reader out. For instance, saying a knife was “wet” instead of describing blood. That really engages your mind.  Starting with the most gruesome and terrifying of beginnings ripped from our own nightmares, the author quickly captures our sympathy for Bod, the baby that escaped, and embraces the reader in an almost charming world of ghosts who raise the boy separate from the dangers of the world, until the world intrudes again.

This book feels like an instant classic. Not too scary, but shivery enough for kids. And well-crafted for readers of any age to fall in love with.

Highly recommended!

Book Review: The Bird House by Kelly Simmons

What is true? What is real? What is forgotten and what can never be erased?  In a lifetime of good intentions we all have our share of secrets, regrets, and undiscovered passions.  And digging through old letters, connecting the importance of a ring with something said long ago, really looking at what is around you, well, it can change your entire view of your world.

The Bird House by Kelly Simmons (Washington Square Press) takes the reader on a mesmerizing journey into one woman’s past and beyond in this sparkling and engrossing novel you’ll want to recommend to everyone you know.  The characters are real, the situations at once startling yet believable.  I found myself glad that I couldn’t sleep last night, because that meant I could get back to this novel and read it through to the end. How many novels are good enough for that? After finishing the last page I had that “I just read something truly amazing” feeling. The lingering of images and emotions. The sadness, as if parting from a very dear friend….

Simmons writes of a granddaughter who is brutally honest, and who needs to do a family heritage project with her grandmother.  She takes us into the head of Ann, a seventy-something woman of high intelligence and so-so memory, who skips us back and forth through time. Her past is a life full of promise, then terrible loss and guilt.  In her present, Ann finds her heart being won over by her granddaughter, a child who asks all the wrong questions in just the right way. And Ann finds answers she hadn’t even known she was seeking.

The story is at once heart-wrenching and hilarious.  Ann has a tart tongue and a sharp eye, making her the ideal narrator casting a witty eye on everything from egocentric architects, Main Line Philadelphia elite, the claustrophobic existence of a new mother, the horrors of those tacky birthday party activity joints, and the temptations of a forbidden lover.

The author quickly envelops you with sharp imagery, true tension, mystery, passion and deeply-felt love. Her writing reminds me of Anne Tyler’s: amazingly brilliant, yet so accessible.

So read The Bird House, love it, share it.  Your friends will be glad you did!  Very highly recommended.

Book Review: Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella

What sort of book would you like to have if you were sick in bed all day, like me? (Insert pity party here… I’m getting better, though, really). Well for me, I wanted something that would entertain, that would make me laugh, that wouldn’t hurt my head too much more than it already hurts (aw, more pity!), and that would make me forget my worries for a while.  Fortunately, I was handed the perfect novel for what ails me: Twenties Girl by Sophia Kinsella (Dial).

All day today, I’ve been snuggled under blankets, sipping hot tea and flipping pages of this novel, thoroughly entertained.  I read it from start to finish, with pleasure. I love when that happens. Really, it’s such a rare thing. I don’t know about you, but all too often a book has a cute premise, an attractive cover, but by page 100 or so, I’m beyond bored, or aggravated by the writing. Sigh.

I’ve always enjoyed Kinsella’s Shopaholic books (if you get a kick out of the ridiculous and love everything British, definitely check these out… ignore the movie — that was a dud in comparison), but I especially loved Twenties Girl.  The premise is both touching and funny.  A great aunt who dies at the age of 105, forgotten by the world, never visited by family. The ghost of this same aunt, in the form of her flapper 23 year old self, haunting her great-niece. The mystery of a lost necklace. The truth of a girl who stupidly pines for an ex (something everyone can identify with at some point in his or her life…admit it, it’s true!).  And a cast of interesting characters, including the best friend who isn’t, the parents who fill you with a confusing mix of love and guilt, and the broody guy with a secret.

One especially beautiful scene occurs when the heroine visits a nursing home and sees the youthful spirits in each wheelchair-bound elder rise up and dance. Fabulous writing.

You might hear people refer to this novel dismissively as chicklit and light and fluffy. But, honestly, it was a hoot to read, engrossing, and had some real depth. Everything you could want from a book on a cold wintry afternoon. Let this novel work its ghostly magic on you.  Highly recommended.

Book Review: Doing It by Melvin Burgess

Haven’t seen this book on your library shelf? Or in the high school classroom?  Well, that’s a shame. But I’m sure it might have something to do with the controversial language and content. Yeah, the content of Doing It by Melvin Burgess (Henry Holt) is “mature,” but this is a phenomenal read, one that I recommend to teens and to adults who used to be teens. It’s so well put together, that I’d even call this novel a “must read.”

I’d also highly recommend this novel to young adult authors who want to read a great example of author’s “voice.”  The voice in this piece seizes you right from page one.

When I say “I couldn’t put this book down,” I mean it.  I was glued to the couch and read it from start to finish, and was sorry when it was done. I laughed, I gasped in horror, I bit my nails with worry. Not many novels do that for me.

The book shares the mindset and voice of the incredible British TV show SKINS. So much so that I was convinced Burgess was a co-creator of the series, but this seems not to be.  (Actually, the TV series Life as We Know It was based on this novel.) Like SKINS, Doing It follows the lives of a group of Brit teens as they obsess about themselves and about sex, as they lean on their friends, and muddle through life dealing with some serious issues as well. Parental infidelity. Adult manipulation. Character scarring events. Plummeting self esteem. Heartache.

You can’t help but be drawn in by the shocking language, and brutally frank thoughts. So honest. So spot on. And, I might add, not at all vicarious. This book isn’t one of those stupid shocker tales. It’s brilliant and witty. And it shows how teens really are, at least at times.

This is a book to share among friends, so please do! Like I said, because of the content, you might not find it on a library shelf or in a classroom, even though it so deserves to be there. Seek this title out, devour it, and enjoy!

Book Review: It’s not Summer without You by Jenny Han

***UPDATE: If you like The Summer I Turned Pretty and other titles by Jenny Han, and novels by Sarah Dessen, then you’ll love my new novel Over My Head, with its summertime vibe and realistic, heartfelt conflicts. You can find out more about Over My Head by clicking here!***

REVIEW: First of all, I’m a definite Jenny Han fan.  I adored her novel Shug, and you can read my review of that here. And I also really loved her book The Summer I Turned Pretty, which I highly recommend.  Best of all, Jenny is a nice person.  I got to meet and hang out with her a bit last year when Aaron’s Books in Lititz, PA held its first children’s lit festival and Jenny and I were both featured authors.

It’s not Summer without You (Simon & Schuster, 2010) is the sequel to The Summer I Turned Pretty.  It definitely stands on its own.  Han does a brilliant job of portraying the confusing sorrow of loss and what it does to relationships.  Her clear prose captures the sweetness of childhood gone by and of regrets in the making.  Warning: bring your tissue box.  You will be crying a bit.

In the hands of another author, the events in this book – a loss of a mother to cancer, plus the lost dream of really loving the boy you have wanted most of your life – would be maudlin, depressing, bleak.  But Han creates a book filled with sunshine summer moments, and hope and the promise of the future.

So pick it up, pick up your tissue, and experience this novel.  The characters end up with no regrets, and neither will you!

Book Review: Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side

***UPDATE: My paranormal YA novel DRAWN is now out in paperback and ebook…If you like TWILIGHT and HUSH HUSH and books by Beth Fantaskey, then you’ll love DRAWN, the paranormal novel filled with forbidden love…and rich with believable characters. For more info about DRAWN click here!***

REVIEW: You know that obnoxious cocky guy? The one that is cute and he knows it?  The one that can’t help but make you laugh even though you really don’t plan on giving him the satisfaction of doing so?  Well, now imagine that this guy is European royalty, and that he shows up in your small Pennsylvanian town. Oh, and he’s a vampire.  Let’s add to that…It turns out you are a vampire too, but you didn’t know it.  And you were betrothed at birth to said arrogant vampire royalty dude.

Well, that is the entertaining premise of Beth Fantaskey’s debut young adult novel Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  I know. More vampires. But like Suck it Up by Brian Meehl (you can check out my review of that by clicking here), Fantaskey fully embraces the ridiculousness of the situation to make us laugh out loud frequently.

Throughout the novel there is the enjoyable banter of anger laced with attraction between Jessica and the imperious Lucius. Well done throughout the book.  But the parts that I most enjoyed were the moments when Lucius comments on American teen life, and even gets involved in it.  One of my favorite moments occurs when he’s writing to his very scary uncle back at the homeland about his progress in sealing the deal with Jessica.  If the wedding between him and Jessica doesn’t occur, then the two ruling vampire families will go to war and most will be killed. No pressure, eh?  Anyway, Lucius concludes his rather solemn letter with

Your nephew, duty bound,
Lucius Vladescu
P.S. I’ve been recruited for basketball. The coach thinks I might start!

It’s that type of humor that will have you flipping the pages and thoroughly enjoying this book.  I loved the spoofy  wit surrounding the book Lucius gives Jessica to help her deal with her changes as she becomes a vampire –  Growing up Undead: A Teen Vampire’s Guide to Dating, Health, and Emotions. The guide has chapters like: “Your Changing Body.” Too funny.

The novel is full of flirty fun and moments of danger, but my favorite parts are when Lucius is looking down his nose at us all. “And do not even speak to me of ‘Jell-O’ and ‘sloppy joes.'”

So check this book out and enjoy. You’ll find it a great summer read.

 

Book Review: “Hush, Hush” by Becca Fitzpatrick

***UPDATE: My paranormal YA novel DRAWN is now out in paperback and ebook…If you like TWILIGHT and HUSH HUSH and books by Beth Fantaskey, then you’ll love DRAWN, the paranormal novel filled with forbidden love…and rich with believable characters. For more info about DRAWN click here!***

REVIEW: Okay, who among us hasn’t been simultaneously attracted to/repulsed by a bad boy? Something about danger, wildness, and stepping away from the known is at once exciting, yet scary…which makes it even more exciting.  Hush, Hush by  Becca Fitzpatrick (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) is indeed about the proverbial bad boy.  So what do you do when that gorgeous, edgy guy you are falling for, turns out to be a fallen angel? Hm. Not exactly meet the parents material.  But excellent material for a YA novel, and this one kept me up most of the night as I eagerly flipped the pages to find out what would happen next to Nora and that dark-eyed mysterious guy, Patch.

What originally attracted me to this novel was the stunning cover, designed by Lucy Ruth Cummins, and featuring a photo by James Porto.  It conveys the dark mood, and an appealing vulnerability. Bravo!  The other thing that pulled me in was the theme of the supernatural lover. I’m trying to keep up with these novels because my own recently completed young adult novel, titled Drawn, is about a teen artist who starts channeling one very attractive and mysterious ghost through her drawings.  Is he the love of her life, or is she losing her mind? Drawn is under consideration at publishers right now.

Some folks might at first glance think Hush, Hush as just another twist on the Twilight theme. But I assure you that Hush, Hush stands on its own, and is a fresh and original read. Now that’s not to say there aren’t some similarities. Even though there are no vampires or werewolves, there are plenty of supernatural creatures infiltrated into a normal high school. The location is a gloomy isolated town (in Maine, the opposite side of the map from Washington state, but similar in some ways). Nora lives in a one parent home, and that parent is mostly clueless or away, which is also similar to Twilight.

But you know what? These qualities weren’t invented by Stephanie Meyer’s either.  Go back to the Gothic novel, and you will find all the tales set in isolated locations and/or gloomy settings. Storms, clouds, dense woods. Par for the course, reflecting the story’s mood.  And what about the lone, clueless parent?  This is a story motif that goes way back to oral tradition. How about the father in Cinderella? And all those evil stepmothers? Weren’t they a dysfunctional bunch? They enabled, and often forced the heroes and heroines in folk tales and fairy tales to strike out on their own and face hardships and adventures. To quest.  This symbolized youth leaving their families, turning their backs on childhood, and facing adulthood.

Well, what about this whole fad surrounding supernatural loves? Not exactly a fad.  Of course there was Dracula, but long before that there were countless folktales told for centuries that involved a supernatural lover or husband.  The lover was often dangerous, mysterious, at times he took the form of an animal or a monster. Sometimes he was cursed, as in Beauty and the Beast or The Frog Prince, and sometimes the lover was a descended demigod. Take the story of Cupid and Psyche from mythology. In one version of this tale, Psyche had a beautiful young man come to her bed every night. He would be hers forever, as long as she never lit the light and looked at him.  Of course she is curious and finally must know more about him. When she lights the candle, she sees Cupid’s wings, and he is forced to leave her.  Varieties of this tale have been told for centuries throughout Europe, in the Near East and India. Even the Zuni of New Mexico told a variety of this story.

Cupid (like Patch and like Edward Cullen) is secretive, mysterious, his sexuality is dangerous, and the heroine is literally “kept in the dark” until she simply must know the truth.  So the new crop of supernatural lover stories are not really a “trend” but a revived archetype – something rooted deep in our lore that speaks to young women as they leave the comfort of their homes and their childhood and dare to explore the dangers of love and independence.

Archetypes aside, there are some further similarities to Twilight. Patch’s unusual dark eyes. His secretive life. Nora and Patch meet as Biology class partners.  I personally would have picked another class for them to meet in, but Biology, specifically the human sexuality unit they are doing, definitely works.  There is a huge showdown in the gym that echoes Meyer’s climactic scene in the ballet studio, and the heroine is lured there because a loved one (this time a friend) is in danger.

But similarities aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. There was plenty of tension and chemistry (as well as biology) between Nora and Patch. Lots of mind games and mysterious happenings heightened the drama and danger. And Nora is a much more appealing heroine than Bella, which makes the reader worry about her more and root harder for her to survive and thrive.  Can a girl with a mysterious birthmark and a pesky iron deficiency fight the evil of the ages? Can a fallen angel, shrouded in darkness and sin rise from his long and horrible past, and truly love? Can you resist staying up all night to find out how it all turns out?

Grab this book and start reading. It’s endlessly entertaining…and you can always catch up on your sleep later.

Book Review: The Dust of 100 Dogs, by A.S. King

Pirates — scurvy foul creatures with a greed for gold and a thirst for blood.  An innocent girl born into war-torn Ireland, who views the world with caution, who finally finds love, and who then has everything violently ripped away.  A teen in Pennsylvania, biding her time, and hiding her secret.  And a curse.  Oh, and some dog care tips.  If this all sounds like an unusual combination, you are dead on, and this is what makes the young adult novel The Dust of 100 Dogs (Flux) by A.S. King a fresh and original hit.

King’s main character Saffron, is a brilliant teen born into a needy family that see’s Saffron’s brilliance as the ticket to a bright future.  But what they don’t know is that Saffron is actually the soul of Emer, an Irish girl who had turned to pirating many centuries ago, and who was cursed to embody the souls of 100 dogs before she finally found herself human again.  Along with teen angst, Saffron must tamp down the savage instincts of her pirating past, and wait just a bit longer until she is 18 and has the money and the freedom to pursue the treasure buried on a Caribbean isle long ago.

The author does an amazing job of grabbing the reader by the throat, and pulling you through this epic adventure.  As we travel with Emer’s soul through her past lives, there is heartbreak and triumph, blood and gore, history and humor.  Because of some disturbing scenes, I would restrict this read to older teens and adults.  It’s a fantastic novel, but there is a rape and one seriously disturbed villain, so be advised.

That said, I now say grab this book and read it.  Share it with others. Channel your inner pirate. Yo-ho!