Book Review: The Map from Here to There

Last year, a friend of mine gave me the gift of a bunch of random books (both published and ARCs) they’d acquired, read, and were willing to part with. I’ve been slowly working my way through what I was given and reviewing them as I go. There is absolutely, no rhyme or reason to my pattern. I literally eenie meenie miney mo my way through my TBR pile. Which is probably how I ended up accidentally reading this book, which is a sequel, without ever having a clue that it was, in fact, a sequel. So, here’s my adventure in reading something and having a very strong feeling I missed something. 

The Map from Here to There, a sequel to The Start of Me and You, is by Emery Lord, and was released January 20, 2020.

Book Summary: 

It’s senior year, and Paige Hancock is finally living her best life. She has a fun summer job, great friends, and a super charming boyfriend who totally gets her. But senior year also means big decisions. Weighing “the rest of her life,” Paige feels her anxiety begin to pervade every decision she makes. Everything is exactly how she always wanted it to be–how can she leave it all behind next year? In her head, she knows there is so much more to experience after high school. But in her heart, is it so terrible to want everything to stay the same forever?

What I Enjoyed: 

Despite my complete foul up, I totally understood what was going on and everything I missed in the first book, with only the vague idea that this seemed like enough backstory for a whole other book, so that was pretty damn impressive. 

This book, much like the last one I read, was great anxiety representation. I felt for Paige and her panic about the huge, life-changing decisions that come with being a senior in high school and having to decide on colleges. Add to that the fear of a new relationship that everyone around her sees as inevitable, and the fact that her divorced parents have been dating again, and you’ve got a major anxiety cocktail.

And it’s not pretty. Which is probably my favorite thing about this. Paige, who seems like a decent and nice person on the whole, does some epically stupid stuff while in the grasp of this anxiety, and it does some real damage to her relationships. There are consequences and they matter. 

Another thing I loved? The characters and what they faced. Paige’s struggles weren’t the only ones. Paige’s boyfriend, Max, struggles with a renewed relationship with his previously absent father and deciding what he wants to do with his life, as well as the fallout of Paige’s decisions. He also has to decide whether he wants to choose his college to go in line with where Paige gets accepted, an issue that helps push Paige’s anxiety levels up a few notches. Never mind the fact that Max is just adorable. His confident nerdiness with a slice of vulnerability made him the perfect boyfriend and foil for Paige’s nervous overthinking.

Paige has three close girl friends, and they each have their own storylines that are real struggles. Tessa also struggles with her newly long distance relationship, as her girlfriend heads to college. She tries her best to help Paige, her closest friend of the friend group, and often ends up getting the brunt of Paige’s attitude. Kayleigh’s father is getting remarried, and she is dealing with choosing a college that is not the college she and her bestie Morgan agreed upon. Also, Morgan may be falling for her brother and she isn’t sure how she feels about it. After Morgan receives a negative diagnosis, she strikes out on a quest to spread sex education and women’s health education through the state, fighting the school board as she goes. 

And then there’s Hunter. Hunter is Paige’s friend from her job at the local movie theater. For reasons I can’t get into without spoiling things, I really loved the arc of his character. I loved the fact that tropes were completely tossed out the window when it came to him, and I really appreciated the resolution his character reached in the end. He was extremely well-handled, despite the fears I grew toward the minute of the book. 

What I’d Avoid: 

I really think it should say the book is a sequel somewhere on the book. I seriously had no idea I was getting into a story midway. I mean, the author did a good job of recapping, but I kinda wish I knew beforehand. I spoiled the previous book for myself! I wish I could have gotten to see Paige and Max fall in love. Dang it. 

The other thing I had an issue with also might be spoilery. The ending was lovely, however, I wish there was more closure. I get that that was kind of the point at the end, the idea that some things, you don’t know, you will never know, until life and its infinite twists and turns decides them for you. However, there were a couple of questions that I think could have been answered more definitively before the closing of the novel…unless, of course, there’s a third story planned for this series. 

What Can I Learn From it: 

This was prime ensemble casting. As someone who tends to overstuff and then have to cut down on my ensemble casting (you don’t want to know how many characters I had to cut out of Order to streamline the story into something I could be proud of). The author manages to handle a large ensemble of characters without any of them ever feeling like they get lost in the shuffle. 

Would I recommend it:  

Yes. But I would recommend you read it in order. *facepalm*

Book Review: Till it Stops Beating

I’ve been meaning to read this book FOR AGES. 

If you’ve been around here for a while, you know about one of my first jobs in publishing was as a reader for Sucker Literary. Sucker was a YA Anthology run by author Hannah R. Goodman. In my time working for Sucker, and also submitting my work to Sucker, Hannah and I got to know each other. And when her book Till It Stops Beating was released in July 2018, I quickly snatched up a copy, and it has lived amidst my TBR list ever since. 

More recently, after a conversation with Hannah, I realized I hadn’t yet read that book, because life got in the way, and my TBR list is years old and contains more books than I’ll ever probably read. I pushed everything else aside and finally picked it up. 

Book Summary: 

Seventeen-year-old Maddie Hickman’s senior year begins with the good (the reemergence of The One That Got Away), the bad (a cancer diagnosis, not hers, but it might as well be) and the WTF (an anxiety attack that renders her writhing on the floor like an upside down crab).

Adding to her spiraling anxiety is Senior Project, in the form of I’ve Decided To Write A Book about The Other One That Got Away (And Crushed My Heart). Compounding it all is applying to college and keeping up with her friends. The ever-mounting stress eventually rips her tight grip on all that she holds dear.

Her break down leads to an unexpected road trip where she is forced to listen to her wildly beating heart. It is only in the back of a convertible with pop music blasting, that she discovers she must risk everything in order to really live.

What I Enjoyed: 

I’ve been suffering from anxiety since I was a teenager. My son has suffered from sometimes crippling anxiety for most of his life. He’s only ten. And so, Till It Stops Beating’s main character, Maddie Hickman immediately earned herself a very solid place in my heart. This was genuine mental health rep, with a relatable protagonist, whose anxiety manifests itself in realistic ways. 

Maddie has been through a lot. She’s been through the death of a friend. The addictions of her sister and the boy she once loved, but still can’t shake. She’s struggled through some nightmare scenarios, and when she discovers her Bubbie (Grandma, for those of you who weren’t raised at least somewhat Jewish), it takes her a minute, but Maddie finally shuts down. She implodes, unable to add this to her litany of troubles and her mounting fear of the future. You see, Maddie is a senior in high school, and she has no idea where she is headed, or who she wants to be. 

So, once she pulls herself together from the big emotional drop, Maddie does what anybody would do when pushing themselves to recover—she experiments. She tries to figure out who she wants to be through sheer force of will. She throws herself into life and discovers that what she always needed wasn’t at all what she ever expected. 

Though the first half was incredibly touching, it is in this latter half, as she struggles to find her place after striking out as an adult, that the book truly finds its footing as a story of fighting through anxiety, and finding what matters most–not to live safely, but to live well. 

What I’d Avoid: 

While I loved the prose in this book, and the characters were relatable and fun, I did find that part 1 and part 2 of this book felt like two completely different books. High School just kind of ends abruptly there in the middle, and suddenly we are on this road trip we haven’t even really seen Maddie come up with. I almost wish this would have been a long percolating idea in her head from the beginning of the book, so it didn’t feel like such a plot shift. This happens a few times. There is also a book that Maddie is writing in the first half for her senior project, and it’s done before we really have time to feel her triumph. I get that there was a lot happening in this book, and we couldn’t linger that long on too many parts, given the span of time being addressed, but this made me feel like the book was running away from us. The pacing was just a little off for me. 

Would I Recommend It: 

Yes, absolutely. Maddie is a great character, and her collection of friends and family are heartwarming and endearing. I was carried along with her journey and enjoyed exploring her emotions. She’s a complicated person, which makes her feel very real, and the mental health representation makes this important reading for the young adult market. 

What Can I Learn From It:

The writer and editor in me finds a lesson in each book, and here’s the one that can be found here. Always write from the heart. Write your truth and don’t go easy on it. Some thoughts we have aren’t the most likeable. Some things we do make us look like jerks. But that’s the reality of who we are. Not everything gets resolved in the end in life, and that should be true for fiction, too. We don’t always get to say our sorrys. We don’t always get to say our goodbyes. 

Book Review: The Disharmony of Silence by Linda Rosen

I’ve been trying to expand my horizons in 2020, and have decided to read more books outside of my normal genre as well as more industry and craft books. Towards that end, my first full book of 2020 is a woman’s fiction novel with a historical slant. I received an ARC of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. As usual, I will be reviewing this book from a writer’s perspective as well as a reader’s perspective.

The Disharmony of Silence is by Linda Rosen and will be released on March 5, 2020. 

Book Summary: 

In 1915, jealous, bitter Rebecca Roth cuts all ties with her life-long friends, the Pearls. Eight years later, Rebecca’s son and young Lena Pearl begin keeping company in secret. Rebecca agrees to a truce when the couple marries. But the truce is fragile. Rebecca’s resentments run deep.

In 2010, Carolyn Lee, fitness instructor and amateur photographer, must come to grips with the fact that her mother’s imminent death will leave her alone in the world. While preparing her childhood home for sale, she realizes for the first time that her mother’s antique brooch is identical to the one pinned to the lady’s dress in the painting hanging above the fireplace. Coincidence or connection? Carolyn is determined to find out. What she discovers has the potential to tear lives apart or to bring her the closeness and comfort she longs for. It all depends on how she handles her newfound knowledge.

What I Enjoyed: 

This book hit me in a lot of very real places. For one, the Roth and Pearl families are New York Jews, having emigrated here from Russia. I happen to be of similar heritage, my maternal grandparents having emigrated here from Poland. While Lena Pearl and Jack Roth were being raised in New York, my mother was growing up just one generation behind them, and a lot of the stories from old New York as well as from Jewish tradition felt like they could have come from my family. 

I ended up converting when I was older, having been raised in a bit of a confusing situation as the daughter of Jewish and Catholic parents who really didn’t choose a side. Though religion has always been a complicated topic for me, the old traditions of the Jewish Holy Days stuck with me, and I teared up at a scene with a Passover Seder, just from memories and how eloquently they were conveyed. 

In addition, my mother recently fell seriously ill, and while she recovered, I also needed to clean her house out so she could move to a more accessible apartment. In that way, I could relate to Carolyn, as she cleared out her childhood home, and her curiosity as well as her inability to part with certain objects from her mother’s past. 

Therefore, I went into this with a deep connection to the main character. That connection never wavered. While sometimes, I found myself wanting to smack her upside the head, Carolyn felt like a real person with real flaws, and a deep seated need to form bonds. Those grumbly moments I felt as I went on my journey with Carolyn made her feel like a true friend. There were moments that were a bit like watching a train wreck, in that way where you cover your face, but peek between your fingers, because you want to know how things work out. 

I was wholly driven by the mystery and then, once the mystery was solved, I was driven by watching to see how Carolyn chose to handle it. 

What I’d Avoid: Truth time. I hate saying anything negative in reviews, especially when the author is relatively new and the publisher is independent, or they are self-published. The sales of a story can suffer so greatly from a bad review.

This book is a 4 out of 5. So this is not a bad review. Still, a slight bit of critique…there were places where the pacing dragged somewhat, and I think that was the result of the two separate storylines being told. I thought that while we were following Carolyn through part of it, and Lena through other parts, the weight of one story vs. the other would sometimes tip heavily in one direction or the other. I believe these two storylines could have been balanced better. 

Would I Recommend It: Yes. Definitely. I will admit, I don’t read Women’s Fiction, or Historical Fiction much, but that doesn’t really matter if you put the onus on story. And this story made me feel. The characters drew me in, and the resolution was well worth the wait. This story is for anyone who enjoys watching a character struggle with living the results of confronting their own long-held values. 

What Can I Learn From It: Anyone who has read my reviews in the past know the editor in me demands I turn every book into a lesson, so here’s this book’s lesson. If your story has a dual timeline, pay very close attention to the pacing of both stories. You want the pivotal parts of each storyline to weave together at the perfect point in the story. If one story drags behind the revelations of the other timeline slightly, it can dampen the effect. Dual timelines are difficult, so just be careful in your planning. 


All in all, The Disharmony of Silence (and my what a perfectly assigned title that is) was a great read that left me feeling satisfied. I enjoyed the characters, and the rich environment, and can’t wait to see more from this author. 

Book Review: Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It

I think any book lover worth their salt has a large To Be Read pile waiting to be tackled. Over the last year or so, I’ve been trying to work my way through mine, which encompasses an entire bookcase–I may have gone overboard. The book I’ll be reviewing today was acquired on the book convention circuit, picking up free ARCs. I never got to this book before it came out officially, and I, sadly, never even read the description before grabbing it up because the cover looked pretty. I know, I’m bad. I know, I should be more selective. But I’m a very eclectic reader. So I dove in.

Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It is a YA Romantic Comedy with a gorgeous cover.

Book Summary:

Jolie’s a lot of things, but she knows that pretty isn’t one of them.

She has mandibular prognathism, which is the medical term for underbite. Chewing is a pain, headaches are a common occurrence, and she’s never been kissed. She’s months out from having a procedure to correct her underbite, and she cannot wait to be fixed.

Jolie becomes paralyzed with the fear that she could die under the knife. She and her best friends, Evelyn and Derek, decide to make a “Things Jolie Needs to Do Before She Bites It (Which Is Super Unlikely, but Still, It Could Happen)” list. Things like: eat every appetizer on the Applebee’s menu and kiss her crush Noah Reed.

But since when did everything ever go exactly to plan?

What I Enjoyed:

The funny thing about Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It, by Kerry Winfrey, is that its concept strongly resembles the plot of a short story I wrote years ago, “One Percent.” “One Percent” was about a young teen who discovers she needs to have spinal surgery to repair her scoliosis and panics, her anxiety feeding the idea that she would be part of the small percentage of surgeries that failed. Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It starts in a very similar way but becomes so much more as the story evolves from its basic concept (and quickly becomes nothing like my short story.

This book hit all of my happy notes. Each character, even the oddball side characters, felt like a person, each with wants, needs, desires–and nobody was a bad guy. This wasn’t that kind of novel. Jolie is actually her very own antagonist, in a very real way. As Jolie struggles with the very idea of what it means to be beautiful–inside or out–she struggles to create new relationships, and salvage the ones she needs to keep.

Her relationships with her family are well drawn, and we get to see a YA book with a family that acts like a real family. Sure, there’s drama, but the characters are loving and warm to each other, and they are not the bad guys in Jolie’s life. Jolie’s best friends, Evelyn and Derek, are uniqueand come with real problems that aren’t really even the point of the story, but are interesting side stories that become important to us because of how important they are to Jolie.

The romance here is a spoiler, but it’s so well done, and it doesn’t go anywhere you would think it was going to go based on the book blurb.

One of my favorite things about this book was that there weren’t enemies–there were competitors, and there were people who cause trouble obliviously, and there are people getting in their own way. But there aren’t bullies and an arch nemesis. Just life, in all the way that it is difficult, and in the ways it becomes more difficult when you have a physical deformity, a struggle I tangled with as a teen myself, as I coped with scoliosis.

What I’d Avoid: I honestly don’t have anything for this section. This book had a strong plot, strong characterizations, strong theme, humor and was just plain lovable. I’ve got no complaints.

Would I Recommend It: Absolutely! Hell, my nine-year-old son wants to read it and I told him to go for it (it’s always a miracle to hear him ask for something he actually wants to read, versus being forced to read). It’s a sweet story and a sweet romance, with only two small detours into subject matter that may be questionable, although when I say that, I mean it skirts the edge of what you’d probably see on your average prime time television show.

What Can I Learn From It: It’s rare to see a book where all of the characters were well-rounded, and not in any way the bad guy. I mean, we’re not even speaking about characters that are the bad guy, but have redeeming qualities. We’re speaking about characters that simply get in their own way, as we as people are wont to do. And not having a clear villain does nothing to damage the conflict of the story–it’s there and it’s strong. I’m eager to try something similar in a different setting, just to see if I can accomplish it.

All in all, Things Jolie Needs To Do Before She Bites It was a fun, well-told story I would recommend to anyone who is looking for a book that is about real life–ups, downs, quirks, and insecurities.

Book Review: The Stars Never Rise

As I’ve mentioned in some of my past book reviews, I am currently making my way through some books that can be seen as a comparative title to my own books. This time around, the book is The Stars Never Rise and its sequel, The Flame Never Dies, by Rachel Vincent. This series was recommended to me as a comparison to my story, The Order of the Key, due to the family connection between siblings, and the main character’s drive to protect hers in the midst of an unbelievable and frightening world.

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Book Summary: Sixteen-year-old Nina Kane should be worrying about her immortal soul, but she’s too busy trying to actually survive. Her town’s population has been decimated by soul-consuming demons, and souls are in short supply. Watching over her younger sister, Mellie, and scraping together food and money are all that matters. The two of them are a family. They gave up on their deadbeat mom a long time ago.

When Nina discovers that Mellie is keeping a secret that threatens their very existence, she’ll do anything to protect her. Because in New Temperance, sins are prosecuted as crimes by the brutal Church and its army of black-robed exorcists. And Mellie’s sin has put her in serious trouble.

To keep them both alive, Nina will need to put her trust in Finn, a fugitive with deep green eyes who has already saved her life once and who might just be an exorcist. But what kind of exorcist wears a hoodie?

Wanted by the Church and hunted by dark forces, Nina knows she can’t survive on her own. She needs Finn and his group of rogue friends just as much as they need her.

What I enjoyed: I found the idea of the Church being in charge in a dystopian future to be an idea ripe for a writer’s playground, and Vincent uses it as such, creating images wrought with the harsher sides of religious rule over the centuries. It also pokes at the idea of the corruption of religion. This is a world that feels rich and lived in.

Nina is a great main character with a strong motivation–she does everything to protect her sister. But even in that, she makes mistakes. She isn’t a perfect hero, and some of the wrong turns she makes are some of the best parts of the book.

Nina amasses a group of friends throughout the course of the story that end up as beloved and dynamic characters. Grayson becomes Nina’s shoulder to cry on, Maddock and Reese become her teachers, and Devi becomes her foil. Devi, in particular, is a fun character precisely because she doesn’t really get redeemed. She’s good, in the more important ways, but she’s also nasty and rude. And then there’s Finn. Finn is Nina’s love interest, the exorcist that saves her. Finn has the best backstory–but I can’t explain anything! It’s all spoilers. But they are all good spoilers, that end up being the most interesting part of the story.

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The second book is a fitting sequel, with a new main big bad, a new creepy section of the world to explore, and the unveiling of some surprising plot elements.

What I’d avoid: I got the distinct impression when reading this story that the author didn’t really know everything she wanted to do with this world. Some surprises and plot twists paid off well, and some felt like they came out of nowhere. Particularly one secret regarding a character in which that character had a special ability that only made sense if the end of the story was already true. I can’t really explain what I mean, but I facepalmed when I realized where it was going. As good as the story and the characters were, this particular event felt strongly like the author asserting their will. It was a frustrating moment.

Another issue I had with the story is that it was billed as a duology and the ending of book 2 left a huge plot thread open. I actually looked up when the next book was coming out. I thought for certain that it was a trilogy. Book 1 and 2 closed well, but there was far too much story left to tell.

Would I recommend it:

Though I had my issues with this story, these were all things I noticed in thinking about it after the fact (aside from that one facepalm moment). I would still say that, on the whole, the story was an interesting and fun ride. I was forced to stop reading a few times throughout the course of reading it, and I always found myself itching to get back. I enjoyed the characters and the entire plot conceit. Despite the issues, it was totally worth the ride. I would definitely recommend this book for lovers of dystopian YA.

What can I learn from it: I think the big lesson I learned from this book is to make sure that any major plot twists I intend to pull off in future books are planned well in advance, and all strange things that can’t be explained in book 1 at least have a firm explanation in my mind, as the writer. And if I come up with a good plot twist later that doesn’t fit the narrative, I’d better have a damn good explanation for it.

All in all, The Stars Never Rise and its sequel were both suspenseful reads that any lover of YA dystopian will enjoy. Just don’t squint too hard at it. You could easily miss the flaws if you aren’t looking too hard.

 

Book Review: Monsters of Verity by Victoria Schwab

It’s a funny cycle and it goes like this: I write a book. When marketing said book for potential agents, having comparison titles can be very helpful. I go looking for comp titles from comp title extraordinaire, Megan Manzano. She does it for me for free because she’s my husband’s little sister, and I spent hours when she was a kid playing pet shop with her stuffed animals, so she owes me. She does charge for the service as well, so you should check it out. The next step in the cycle is to read the books she recommends and make sure I agree and know what I’m talking about when an agent says, “what in particular did you think was similar to the book?” That would be a really bad moment to gape like a fish. Anyway, I read, I love, I gush to her in annoying ways via FB Messenger, and then I write one of these. The Monsters of Verity series by Victoria Schwab was recommended to me mostly based on tone, family politics, and monster battles, but I stayed for so much more.

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Book Summary: Below is the jacket copy for the first book of the duology, This Savage Song. I will not include a summary for Our Dark Duet, because that would be spoilery as all get out.


Kate Harker wants to be as ruthless as her father. After five years and six boarding schools, she’s finally going home to prove that she can be.

August Flynn wants to be human. But he isn’t. He’s a monster, one that can steal souls with a song. He’s one of the three most powerful monsters in a city overrun with them. His own father’s secret weapon.

Their city is divided.

Their city is crumbling.

Kate and August are the only two who see both sides, the only two who could do something.

But how do you decide to be a hero or a villain when it’s hard to tell which is which?

Corsai, Corsai, tooth and claw,
Shadow and bone will eat you raw.
Malchai, Malchai, sharp and sly,
Smile and bite and drink you dry.
Sunai, Sunai, eyes like coal,
Sing you a song and steal your soul.
Monsters, monsters, big and small,
They’re gonna come and eat you all.

What I enjoyed: I have to really stop and think about this, because on a knee jerk, I want to think I enjoyed everything, but I want to be more specific. This was definitely a novel that swept me up and through me through the dryer in the best possible way, so I’m still a little dizzy over it. Okay, deep breaths.

For starters, the characters–generally my favorite part of the book, I loved these characters. Kate was difficult to love, and at first you kind of loved to hate her, but by the end of her arc, I was blown away by her. She was a complex and truly wonderful character. August was a character I loved from the beginning, but his journey was a gripping ride, as he came to terms with who he was, what his role could be and what it should be. The villains ran the gamut between disturbing (the monsters) and oddly understandable and still disturbing (the human villains).

The mythology of this world was surprising and inventive. The monsters here are born of violent acts, meaning each act of brutal violence creates a monster. Dealing with your own demons is a big theme in this book. I was intrigued by the breakdown of differences between the monsters, and the creation of the war-divided city of Verity. I applauded her use of music as a way to draw forth a soul for devouring in the Sunai. This was a completely unique monster concept to me, and I loved the way this played out, especially in the end. The writing in itself is downright poetic. Like the music from August’s violin, it drags you in and holds you in its comforting lull or pulls you into pieces, depending on the moment.

The tone of the story was another lovely point. It was gritty and real and lived in. No punches pulled.

What I’d avoid:

There were a couple of things I didn’t love about the story, although they definitely weren’t as prevalent as the things I did. Schwab delivered a new and inventive world, and I understood that she wanted to leave some room for speculation, but there were a couple of threads I felt were left hanging. Things like “what happened to the US to create a city like Verity?” or “What happened to certain characters Kate and August weren’t able to maintain contact with?” just kind of never get answered, even though they felt like they would be. They aren’t integral to the plot, but it nagged me a little bit. Bigger questions, like “why are the Sunai SO DIFFERENT from other monsters, and from each other?” could have been purposely left open as something for the reader to suss out and theorize about, but I felt a few more clues would have been very much appreciated.

Would I recommend it:

I actually just did. I hope my husband is enjoying his audiobook of it right now! And I will continue to. I really enjoyed this story.

What can I learn from it:

I’ve been struggling with the bittersweet ending of one of my novels, wondering if I’d gone the right way with it. The Monsters of Verity series, along with its popularity, made me feel much better about this choice in my work. It also helped me trudge forward without fear in my latest work, which does have a gritty backdrop and a slightly selfish heroine. This story is a class in “Write what the story wants, the rest will fall in place” and I love that.

Despite my few tiny gripes, this series had me from the very first line and held me. And, it helpfully works as an addition to my list of comp titles. One of my favorite things about looking for comp titles is discovering new authors and new stories. Have any of you ready This Savage Song and Our Dark Duet? Any recommendations of similar books?

 

My Kind of Book Review: Fragments of the Lost

Hello all! If you’re wondering why I haven’t posted here in a month, I was busy working on my latest YA novel, A Light So Dim (I’m 7.5 chapters in) for Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve also been reading. After my sister-in-law/co-councilor at Inkwell, a different Megan than the one who wrote the book this review is about, attended BookExpo and we both attended BookCon, the two of us found ourselves drowning in ARCs and purchases books–to the point of not having space on my bookshelves. So, I eeny-meenied my way through the stack, and picked my next read. That read turned out to be Fragments of the Lost by Megan Miranda.

Now, I think I should start by saying that, while Fragments of the Lost has a great cover that immediately gives the book a spooky, mysterious vibe, I never would have purchased this book if it hadn’t been given to me for free at an event. It’s not that the story doesn’t sound cool, and while I love some good mystery in my reading choices, my tastes normally run a bit too weird to pick a straight YA Mystery. But seeing as how I had been given it for free and it was the selection made through my very professional eeny-meeny method, I went for it. I turned out very glad I did, and am now adding the rest of Miranda’s novels to my to be read pile.

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Book Summary: Jessa Whitworth knew she didn’t belong in her ex-boyfriend Caleb’s room. But she couldn’t deny that she was everywhere–in his photos, his neatly folded T-shirts, even the butterfly necklace in his jeans pocket . . . the one she gave him for safe keeping on that day.

His mother asked her to pack up his things–even though she blames Jessa for his accident. How could she say no? And maybe, just maybe, it will help her work through the guilt she feels about their final moments together.

But as Jessa begins to box up the pieces of Caleb’s life, they trigger memories that make Jessa realize their past relationship may not be exactly as she remembered. And she starts to question whether she really knew Caleb at all.

Each fragment of his life reveals a new clue that propels Jessa to search for the truth about Caleb’s accident. What really happened on the storm-swept bridge?

What I Enjoyed: The format of this story is what initially captured me. The fact that each chapter was titled according to something Jessa found in Caleb’s room and told the story of Jessa discovering it there, and a memory it triggered. As Jessa packs, another piece of the story is unwrapped, and we begin to build a picture of these characters, and the order of events that led to the accident. This structure-based release of information served the plot so well, and we got the opportunity to fully see the situation through Jessa’s eyes, and to solve the mystery yourself, or at least follow each step on Jessa’s journey to the truth.

This mystery was very well conceived and executed, and every piece of the puzzle slotted into place in a satisfactory manner, even if it sometimes took awhile for it to find its way there. The characters were each intriguingly flawed in their own way, and the message of the story was strong. We are not alone in this world, and each piece of a person’s life story is also a piece of those who loved them.

What I’d Avoid: There wasn’t much here that I was unhappy with. I really enjoyed this book from start to finish. When I glanced at other reviews, I found they had an issue with the pacing, but that never felt like a problem to me. It read smoothly, and the slower pace of the story was necessary to birth the frankly surprising turn in the mystery at the end. The build up to the twist was masterfully wrought.

Would I Recommend It: Absolutely. Anyone who loves a good mystery and doesn’t have an issue reading and loving YA (let’s face it, people who hate YA are out there) would enjoy this book.

What Can I Learn From It: This story was a master class in the slow unraveling of a mystery, and how to craft a mystery that makes sense and doesn’t feel like a total swerve when the ending is revealed. I don’t know if I could ever manage something similar, but I’m definitely motivated to now.

In the end, Fragments of the Lost was a mood piece that lived in the dark place of losing someone who was once so much a part of you. It was a great, touching read, with depth of feeling, interesting and complex characters, and a satisfying mystery. Check it out.