Editor’s Review: The Songs We Remember (The Songs in Our Hearts #2) by Chantal Gadoury

*Full disclosure: I was the editor of this novel for 48fourteen Publishing.

The Songs We Remember is the heart-rending yet lovely sequel to The Songs in Our Hearts by Chantal Gadoury. In the next installment of this contemporary YA love story, we return to our lovably conscientious heroine, Charlie, and her now-boyfriend, the charmingly laid-back Micah. In many ways, though opposites, Charlie and Micah are an ordinary high school couple. They navigate the everyday pressures and decisions of teens who date, like whether to be intimate or stay chaste, when to say “I love you,” and how to act as an item around friends and family. In the same way that the first book celebrates and evokes autumn, the sequel brings the winter and holiday season to life, and all the romantic trappings that go along with it.

But then unexpected tragedy hits. Blindsided by loss, Charlie withdraws – from everyone and everything. Though Micah tries, not even the boy she loves and the music they shared can mend her grief-shattered heart. These parts of the book had me blubbering like an infant (you will need a box of tissues. But it will be worth it). And yet, slowly but surely, loyal and devoted Micah and their friends gently coax Charlie out of her mourning and into a sobering but new normal. It isn’t easy, and nothing will ever be the same for Charlie again. But with time and patience, Charlie and Micah will learn that the music – even if just the memory of it – plays on.

I unequivocally adored this book. It is currently my favorite YA contemporary romance. Gadoury’s stunning strength and growth as a writer has been among the most beautiful and inspiring things to witness in my career. She writes authentically with grace and poignancy, as well as delightful humor and affection that make her characters pop right off the pages. Even when the book is sad, it is also full of hope and laughter. Gadoury is one of those YA authors that reminds you of the goodness and light that’s still out there in the world, and who’ll make you laugh and cry simultaneously. I recommend this duet to fans of YA contemporary romances like Anna and the French Kiss, What Happened to Goodbye, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and The Fault in Our Stars.

Editor’s Review: Foretold (Book 3 of the Near Deaths Series) by Holly M. Campbell


*Full disclosure: I was the editor of this novel for 48fourteen Publishing.

Foretold (48fourteen, 2018) by Holly M. Campbell is the third – and final? – book in the Near Deaths Series. As a mega-fan of Mrs. Campbell’s previous works, including Foreshadowed (Book 1), Forewarned (Book 2), and Without Curtains, I was beyond honored to be approached by 48fourteen Publishing to edit her newest novel.

Foretold is every bit as compelling, gripping, and heart-stopping as its predecessors. The story of the teen mind-reader, Hope; her death-seeing boyfriend, Lance; and their quest to uncover the identity of a serial rapist/murderer in their small western town comes to its apex in this grand finale to complete the trilogy. Just like the first two books, the story is equal parts teen paranormal romance and murder mystery/suspense. Even the supernatural elements feel believable and realistic, keeping me on the edge of my seat as if it could all truly be happening.

The narrative takes a somewhat heavier turn as Hope grapples with guilt and grief after a sudden and devastating turn of events at the end of Book 2 (no spoilers! My lips – er, fingers – are sealed). Yet, the plot manages to stay fast-paced and unputdownable, aided along especially by intriguing characters from previous books who return with larger roles, the emergence of important new characters, and even one particular character turnaround that nearly stole the show for me. The banding together of the psychic Near Deaths vigilantes and Hope’s final battle against the villain in the third act of this book blew me away. Make no mistake, this is a masterful series executed by a master writer.

Punchy, suspenseful, heartfelt, dangerous, and at times humorous while deliciously dark, Foretold was the perfect ending to Campbell’s memorable and highly recommended paranormal suspense trilogy.

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars (2012) is a teen novel written by bestselling author John Green. Our narrator, Hazel, is a seventeen-year-old young woman coping with terminal thyroid cancer. At heart, Hazel is a reader, philosopher, and introspective person, wise beyond her limited years. But not unrealistically so (in her parents’ words, she can also act “very teenagery”). Through a church-based Cancer Support Group, which Hazel’s mother makes her attend (although Hazel finds them to be rather trite and cheesy) Hazel unexpectedly meets her match: the precocious, clever and irresistibly sexy amputee and fellow cancer survivor, Augustus Waters. But as Hazel feels she is a “grenade,” with reference to her terminal illness, she’s reluctant to take on a new friend, or engage in any kind of serious relationship, for fear of hurting yet another person when her time of death should come.

This may sound like a depressing novel, but amazingly, it isn’t. In fact, it is one of the funniest, warmest and addictive novels I’ve read. That’s not to say it’s without heartbreaking moments. Like most fellow readers, I did cry. But mostly, I was charmed by the main characters: who they were, their thoughtfulness and unique approaches to life and death; and their struggles for meaning – or acceptance of a lack thereof – while the rest of the world comforts itself with tired proverbs.

John Green is a poet with a brilliant mind. His simple yet masterful prose contains no clichés. And while Hazel can sometimes be flippant, saucy and downright blasphemous, she has one of the most honest approaches to cancer and mortality I’ve ever considered. I’ve never read a book quite like this, and am not sure what to compare it with. But it resonated with me. Another side story in this unforgettable novel, which I cannot fail to mention, is the mystery of the reclusive author of Hazel’s favorite novel. She and Augustus embark on an unlikely overseas adventure to Amsterdam to meet this author, a surprising encounter that had me on the edge of my seat.

Read this novel. The Fault in Our Stars is a triumphant, witty, irreverent and thought-provoking book worth your time. Yes, you may cry. But you won’t regret it!

Book Review: Sea by Heidi R. Kling

Sea by Heidi R. Kling is another of my favorite novels. Fifteen-year-old Sienna “Sea” Jones has not been herself since her mother died in a plane crash over the Indian Ocean. Suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and being treated by her father, a psychologist, Sienna no longer body-boards in the ocean or engages in her former interests. On her birthday, Sienna is surprised with a plane ticket to Indonesia, to help the children orphaned by the tsunami that hit Aceh in 2004. Terrified of airplanes, the ocean, and the thought of international travel after what happened to her mother, Sienna refuses to go at first. But when her friend Spider discovers a meaningful relic from their past, they take it as a sign that Sienna should go.

Although it’s only for two weeks, Sienna’s trip to Indonesia changes her life. Her recurring night terrors are quelled when she now has the responsibility of comforting the young orphans. Her perspective changes when she witnesses the testimonies of the young women who outran the great wave, but saw their homes and families perish behind them. Most of all, Sienna falls in love with a gorgeous and mysterious Indonesian boy, called Deni. But Deni’s tragic past holds deep secrets. And with the two living on opposite sides of the world in vastly different cultures, will they be able to sustain their romance?

I loved this book for its simple poignancy. It’s a light read, yet deals very well with heavier themes, such as tragedy, death, grief, and romantic passion. I loved the cultural and educational value of this book too, in the fascinating setting of modern-day Indonesia, learning about its geography, customs and religious practices. I also appreciated the depth of the characters, including the narrator, Sienna, who portrays wisdom and maturity beyond her fifteen years – but in a realistic way.

This is the kind of book I couldn’t put down. It had me wondering about the characters, even the background ones, long after finishing. A very good read, and a solid debut from author Kling. This is among my favorite “travel romances.”

Book Review: Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

After experiencing a deep personal sorrow, Salamanca’s Native American mother, Chanhassen, leaves her husband and daughter, for a time, to find herself. She takes a bus tour westward from their Kentucky home out to Idaho. When Chanhassen does not return, Sal and her grandparents decide to retrace Chanhassen’s steps by car on a road trip together. Sal plans to find and bring her mother home.

While sightseeing cross-country and ensuring they make all the stops that Chanhassen’s bus made, Sal enjoys her grandparents’ stories and company. Meanwhile, she weaves a yarn to them about her “friend” Phoebe, whose mother also disappeared, but continued to send Phoebe mysterious messages. As Phoebe’s story unfolds, so does Sal’s in this heartbreaking but beautiful YA novel, entitled Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech.

I should warn that this book will bring on the tears. It is an exquisite work of YA fiction, emotionally investing and geographically inspiring! The characters do not soon leave the reader. I highly recommend this unforgettable book to all ages. Creech poignantly teaches that life does continue after tragedy, love conquers all, and that one should never judge a person until having “walked two moons in his moccasins.”

Book Review: Dear America: Hear My Sorrow, The Diary of Angela Denoto, a Shirtwaist Worker (New York City, 1909) by Deborah Hopkinson

hear-my-sorrow-2In this beautiful yet doleful tale, we follow Angela Denoto, a Sicilian-born teen at the turn-of-the-century in New York City. Although Angela is bright and the only member of her family who can read, as well as speak and write in English, her father’s physical condition requires her and her elder sister, Luisa, to work in his stead. As Angela begins her job at a shirtwaist factory, she experiences the awful, unfair, and even dangerous working conditions, including workers having to pay for their own needles and thread, their bosses prohibiting them from stopping and stretching or resting even after injury, seventy-two hour work weeks without overtime pay, dangerous fire and health hazards, and more.

Soon, Angela befriends fellow seamstress Sarah Goldstein, a “fiery” Jewish girl who is involved in the women’s labor union. Sarah soon coaxes Angela into various union activities and a strike, in order to fight for better working conditions for the women factory workers. Angela’s striking from work does not come without a high cost, however, as her family struggles without her pay. The author does a good job of describing both the miserable working conditions and the need for unionizing, as well as the girls’ and their families’ need to work to eat and survive, despite the terrible conditions. This book closes with the fatal events of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory tragedy, which, coupled with other significant deaths in this book, adds to its melancholy overtone.

A sad story devoid of really any cheer, and rather bare-bones at times in terms of character development, but poignant and emotional nonetheless.

Book Review: Dear America: West to a Land of Plenty, The Diary of Teresa Angelino Viscardi (New York to Idaho Territory 1883) by Jim Murphy

west-to-a-land-of-plentyWhen I read the first page of this DA diary, I knew this one was going to be quite special. For one, it was written in (what I felt to be) a very realistic voice and style for a fourteen year old girl– complete with spelling errors and complaints about family, and how much she hates her little know-it-all sister. This book only got better, and had a lot of heart.

Teresa is the American-born child of an Italian immigrant family. They are fairly happy in their crowded New York City apartment, when her father and uncle, as well as many more on their street, are persuaded by the enthusiastic Mr. William Keil to relocate to Idaho Territory for the opportunity to own an expanse of land and make a better life for their families. Thus begins the Viscardi family’s venture out West, first via railroad and then on foot in a wagon train, pioneer-style. This is the only DA diary I have read (so far) that is in fact a shared diary, meaning there are entries from both Teresa and her precocious (and hilarious) little sister, Netta. On the journey, they are also accompanied by their– very memorable– feisty Sicilian grandmother. Teresa herself had more personality than most of the narrators in this series combined, which made this book a unique joy to read, on top of Netta’s entries being so entertaining as well. It also has some of the funniest quotations from characters I’ve encountered in this series– indeed, this is the first DA book at which I actually laughed out loud while reading. This book also has its share of tragedy as well, however; be prepared for a devastating major death.

The epilogue, I felt, was extremely realistic, which is what I like to read, and I was very surprised to discover, after finishing, that the author was male, for he spoke from a young female perspective quite well. Overall, a wonderful book in the series, and one of which I will always remain very fond.