All tagged Debuts

Friendship, Diversity and Adventure in Stacey Lee's Under a Painted Sky

A fantastic historical novel is a special thing--and I sometimes feel like it's a unicorn situation. The last historical novel I loved (that wasn't a verse novel) was Jennifer Donnelly's luminous A Northern Light and that was quite awhile ago. 

Fortunately, Stacey Lee's debut young adult historical novel about two girls on the Oregon Trail in the early 1800s, Under a Painted Sky, landed in my mailbox at just the right time, as it was the historical novel I've been looking for for ages and ages. 

Father always said, If you cannot be brave, then imagine you are someone else who who is. So I imagine myself as him, my optimistic father, whose steps never wavered, whose face never hid in shadows. Lifting my chin, I march after Andy as if my cares were few and my outlook, golden.

Under a Painted Sky starts off with a bang, with narrator Samantha--a skilled violinist of Chinese descent--being left with no choice but to flee her Missouri town. Dashed are her dreams of moving back to New York and pursuing a music career.

Recommendation Tuesday: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Recommendation Tuesday started as a joke and is now an official thing. Basically, this is my way of making Tuesday a little more awesome. If you've got a book to recommend on this or any Tuesday, tweet me at @FullShelves and I'll help spread the word.

View all of the past recommendations over here. 

It's not often I find a work on literary fiction that has a story as compelling as its prose--hence, I don't recommend it very often. Sparkling, thoughtful writing is wonderful, but it feels awfully vapid when the story falters. Or it's filled with dull Middle Aged Man Angst.

Discovering Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You was an unexpected surprise, as result. While imperfect (as all novels are), it hits so many notes that make worth checking out, even if you normally avoid literary fiction. It's a historical novel, though the 1970s time period is one of the book's less-developed aspects, but more than anything it's a story of family and marriage. 

Power & the "Tough Enough" Narrative: Rites of Passage by Joy N. Hensley

When listening to the audiobook of Joy Hensley's debut YA novel, I kept recalling a huge news story from my youth: Shannon Faulkner's two year-long fight to be granted admission to The Citadel, South Carolina's public military college. When the court finally forced the college to allow her admission to the Corps of Cadets, she lasted only a week, having spent much of her time in the school's infirmary.

Years later, Faulkner revealed that she was subject to intense abuse, and feared for not only her own life but the lives of her family members, thanks to death threats she received while at the school. 

It was a gut-wrenching thing to watch on the news when I was a teenager. I'd been rooting for Faulkner to succeed, to win for every girl who wanted to smash any number of boys-only clubs (institutional or social) that were inaccessible to us girls.

A Fresh Shapeshifter Story: Skulk by Rosie Best

Skulk’s anything but a typical paranormal teen fiction. Shapeshifters in Rosie Best’s novel consist of foxes, ravens, rats, butterflies and spiders—no wolves need apply to this world. And, Skulk is urban fantasy in the truest sense of the term, with a rich city-focused setting of London, complete with graffiti and urban wildlife that’s not what it appears.

At the center of this story is sixteen year old Meg Banks, a teen girl who appears to have it all. Her mother’s a highly-respected member of Parliament and her father’s a genius with money. Meg attends an exclusive school that churns out students headed for only the best universities and the brightest futures. 


Meg’s perfect parents, perfect school, perfect life is nothing more than a tarnished cage locking in an unconquerable spirit who struggles to find self expression, individuality and ultimately freedom from her cruel and demanding mother and her aloof father.

Read the rest-->

List-O-Rama: Embracing the Weird

I have a soft spot for bizarro stories. You know what I mean, the weird, but captivating, tale that you never fully understand but like nonetheless. Here are a few of our recommendations for the next time you want to embrace the weird.  

Coaltown Jesus by Ron Koertge (Candlewick, Oct. 8, 2013)

“‘Oh dear,’ said Jesus. 

Walker was able to ask ‘What?’ They’d stopped in front of a Balk’s Hardware. A sign in the window said, 


Jesus stared at his hands. ‘I mean nails are a miracle and God is in them, but they still give me the shivers.’”

Ron Koertge specializes in strange stories and he's an author whose books reliably work for me. Koertge's known for his verse novels, but this is more of a fractured prose (my term) style that works for this odd little story of a boy who seeks, and receives, divine intervention in coping with his brother's death. This is an irreverent little story with one of the more unusual doses of magical realism I've read. It's a short book at 128 pages, so if you're looking for something completely outside your normal wheelhouse that'll make you laugh, check out Coaltown Jesus.

I also recommended Koertge's Lies, Knives and Girls in Red Dresses, a collection of fairytales retold in poetry, if you're looking for more Koertge weirdness.

Read the rest --> 


Consequences & Sacrifice in Cristin Terrill's All Our Yesterdays

I’ve been trying to pin down exactly why I enjoyed All Our Yesterdays so much, beyond that I’m a sucker for time travel stories. What I’ve come up with is that Cristin Terrill’s debut novel uses the time travel narrative to its fullest potential, exploring the nature of love, sacrifice and the consequences of both. 

All Our Yesterdays opens with Em, who is imprisoned in a secret facility, finding a list of instructions taped inside a drain in her cell. The instructions are written in her handwriting, but she’s never seen them before. Together with the boy in the cell next to hers, Finn, she escapes her imprisonment and travel back in time four years in attempt to stop the evil “doctor” who built the time travel machine that was used to disrupt the course of history and create a totalitarian-type government. In order for the machine to be destroyed, the doctor must be eliminated.

Except, the “doctor” is someone from Em and Finn’s past, their close friend and someone they both loved in their past. Killing him and stopping the time machine will also irrevocably alter their own lives. 

Four years in the past, Marina pines for her neighbor and friend James. Both are privileged and sheltered, and it seems like James might be beginning to see Marina as something more than a friend. Then, a tragedy strikes James’ family and he’s changed. Marina feels like she’s losing her beloved friend, but her loyalty endures. 

These two stories intersect from both Marina and Em’s points-of-view, as each is faced with big questions, the answers to which mean big consequences and require difficult sacrifices.

Read the rest! 


Lauren Graham's Someday, Someday Maybe & What 'New Adult' Could Be

“Once again, I’ve been thwarted by the massive difference between my vision of the successful me and the me I’m currently stuck with.”

I recently listened to the audiobook of Lauren Graham's debut novel, Someday, Someday Maybe and really enjoyed it. The Gilmore Girls and Parenthood actress penned a surprisingly fresh novel, which, while predictable and in need of a bit of smoothing out in terms of the prose, succeeded in charming me from beginning to end. Graham's voice is fresh, and infused with authentic comic moments.

Someday, Someday Maybe also gave me pause in that it represents the sort of story I'd love to read more of, the stories that I'd hoped the burgeoning "New Adult" thing would and could be. 

Someday, Someday Maybe follows Franny Banks, struggling to create an acting career for herself in New York City in 1995. She's set a deadline for achieving undefined "success" and that deadline is rapidly approaching. She's had a few gigs and been accepted into a prestigious acting course, but as she's watching the clock tick on her future, she wonders if she's going to be another has-been who couldn't make her dreams become reality. Franny ponders the wisdom of her audacity to to wish for something special, since she doesn't think she's particularly exceptional. 

Would Franny be better off getting a teaching certificate, like her father would like, going home and marrying her "backup plan"? Is all the rejection and instability worth it? 

Read the rest! 

A Fresh Detective Novel - Loyalty by Ingrid Thoft

I attended the American Library Association Winter Conference in January in Seattle, Washington. I’d never attended one of the ALA’s conferences and after a few minutes there, wondered why (it would have been an excellent resource when I was teaching full-time).

A new writer, Ingrid Thoft, attended the conference to promote her first novel, Loyalty. I happened to be first in line to meet her and she handed me the novel with a huge smile. Her excitement clearly showed in her eyes when she asked for my name, signed my book and handed it to me--apparently, I was one of the very first people to receive a copy of Loyalty.

Loyalty opens with a woman attempting to ascertain what she’d done to deserve being tied up, blindfolded and laid in the bottom of a boat headed out to sea.

Her arms and legs were cinched together tighter, and she was picked up off of her feet.
Then it was air.
Then water.
Then nothing.

A few pages later Fina, the daughter of a tough lawyer who’s the patriarch of an equally tough family of lawyers, meets with her father who informs her that her sister-in-law has disappeared. It’s her job to find out what happened and where her brother’s wife is.

Fina doesn’t fit her family’s mold. The brothers all finished  law school and belong to the Ludlow law firm solely comprised of members who maintain a take-no-prisoners mentality. Fina, who’s a law school drop-out, works for the family firm as the lead investigator. Her credentials for “tough” stand up to anything the rest of the family can tout.

Different in a Good Way - The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

Often, when a new book or author receives piles of advance praise, I find myself leery of marketing hype. I’ve just been burned too many times, so I proceed with caution these days. However, my interest in Mary Ann Rivers’ debut novella, The Story Guy, was piqued after a rave review from one of my favorite book pushers, Angie of Angieville fame.

A quick 120 pages later, and I can say, y’all, Mary Ann Rivers is an author to watch.

The Story Guy’s main character is Carrie, a midwestern librarian who lives a good life. She has a career she loves, parents with whom she’s close and friends she adores. Despite all this warmth, however, Carrie’s life is also lonely, as everyone around her has a partner and a rich home life.

One of Carrie's favorite distractions is reading the personal ads on a City Paper-type website. (Who hasn't done that, am I right?) These ads are usually pretty sketchy and Carrie finds them refreshingly authentic--these people aren’t playing games, they’re saying exactly what they want out of a relationship. One morning she comes across an intriguing request for a standing Wednesday rendezvous in a public park for “kissing only” and impulsively answers it before she can stop herself.

The following Wednesday, Carrie meets this stranger, Brian, and it sets in motion a radical change in both their lives.

Review: Sanctum by Sarah Fine

When Laura and I chatted with the folks from Amazon Children's Publishing at the ALA Midwinter meeting earlier this year, they were heavily pushing Sarah Fine's Sanctum as "the next Angelfall." While on some level I understand the comparison--Angelfall features angels who are quite demonic, Sanctum is set in an afterlife full of demon-like creatures--the two books aren't read-alikes and likely don't share a audience. 

With that said, as a fan of adult urban fantasy, Sanctum hits where so many other young adult novels billed as urban fantasy miss; it's a creative and unique novel I'd recommend to fans of the genre, teen or adult. 

Lela Santos, who's spent much of her life in the foster care system, is finally settled into a good life at the beginning of Sanctum. She's thinking about college--something she never believed possible; she has an unlikely best friend in the form of Nadia, who's the popular girl Lela never believed would be her friend; she has a stable life in a safe home. That crumbles when Lela's best friend kills herself in a bout of depression Lela didn't see.

Racked with grief and guilt, Lela begins to have visions of her friend tormented in a horrible place.  In her distraught frame-of-mind, she tries to find closure about Nadia's death, but instead (stay with me here--this sounds a bit wacky, but it all makes sense in the story) she winds up dead thanks to a freak accident. Lela plummets into a terrifying underworld, the same place she saw in her visions. Determined to find Nadia and figure out a way for them both to escape, Lela enters the Dark City, a terrifying, shadowy place where lost souls wander. 

This city is a scary place. Food is inedible, demon-like creatures called Mazikin wander the streets looking for bodies to possess, and the guardians of this creepy place are pretty scary too.

Review: The Summer I Became a Nerd by Leah Rae Miller

I had no idea that a book in which LARPing receives so much page time could be so endearing and fun. 

Leah Rae Miller's debut novel, The Summer I Became a Nerd is lighter fair done right. While it's not breaking any ground, there's a lot of merit in reading a breezy book that's so engaging. I often find myself disinterested or just plain bored with this type of novel, particularly in YA, but this hits a lot of sweet spots with fun humor, a believable teen voice and a warm story about the importants of being true to oneself.

Following a traumatic experience as a middle schooler, Maddie has ​hidden her love of comic books, science fiction and all things "nerdy" from her friends in pursuit of popularity and fitting in. She's a cheerleader, she dates the quarterback, she listens to the "right" music that her popular group of friends listens to. 

This carefully-constructed facade starts to crumble when the final issue of her favorite comic book is on backorder and she forces herself to go to the local comic book store (in "disguise," naturally) in search of the book.

There’s only one place in town that would have a copy. Is the risk of being seen and losing my place atop Natchitoches Central’s elite worth it? No. Absolutely not. It’s been a long, hard climb to the top of the popularity ladder. It took a lot of deceit and subterfuge to get people to forget The Costume Incident.

It turns out the comic book store is owned by the family of a nerdy boy from Maddie's school, Logan, who isn't fooled by her disguise or her feigned coolness. Quickly, the two begin spending time together, as Logan introduces Maddie to his world full of LARPing, video games and comic book conventions.

Review: Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe

Lindsey Scheibe's debut novel, Riptide, has an intriguing hook: surfing, best friends and alternating points-of-view (and let's not forget the appealing cover). It's one of the novels--along with Some Quiet Place--which Flux promoted enthusiastically at the midwinter ALA meeting.

However, despite all of that promise, Riptide ​proved to be a bit of a disappointment. With the exception of the surfing scenes, which were quite vivid, I found myself wanting more depth and focus from this story.

​Riptide is told in alternating points-of-view by Grace and Ford, childhood friends in southern California who live for the surf and sand. Grace can't wait to leave her troubled home, where her father is prone to angry, violent outburst and she's not allowed a much of a social life.

Fragmented images fly through my head—some fun, some scary. Surfing at the beach, Dad’s face when he’s angry, shopping, jogging in the park with Mom, Mom lecturing me on making a good impression, wearing clothes I don’t like, working out with Ford. Then come the big fears. The possibility of having surfing taken away if I screw up and lose my class rank. Not knowing when Dad’s going to explode. Whether or not I can bring it to the Jack n John Surf Comp. It’s like being on an out of control tilt-a-whirl at a carnival. Even on a dream weekend, I can’t escape the stress of home.

As a result, she's pinned all her hopes of escape on a surfing scholarship at University of California-San Diego (I didn't realize this, but there surfing is a sport some schools--mostly in California--actually offer scholarships for). When the opportunity to enter a world-class surfing competition presents itself, an opportunity that could mean catching the eye of UCSD's surfing coach, Ford enters Grace into the competition and she spends the summer training while Ford interns at Grace's father's law office.

Audio Review: Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone

Between my blog post about audiobooks and a desperate cry on Goodreads and Twitter for audiobook recommendations, there were several suggestions of Tamara Ireland Stone's debut novel, Time Between Us. I'd been curious about this book anyway, as I am a tremendous sucker for time travel or parallel universe-type stories (I lay the blame for this squarely on Fringe). 

I figured giving this particular book a whirl, since I had a couple of gratis Audible credits, and while I had extremely mixed feelings about The Time Between Us, I still enjoyed it quite a bit and am definitely onboard for the sequel, because there's something about this story that's extremely engaging and entertaining--and this was very much bolstered by the narrator's performance. 

Time Between Us is set in 1995 Evanston, Illinois and is told in the first person present perspective of Anna, a 16-year old avid runner who works in her father's bookstore and dreams of traveling the world. She meets Bennett, a boy she first spots at the track where she runs and later enrolls as a temporary student at the private school she attends. 

The two embark on an intense, whirlwind of a romance, culminating in Anna's discovery that Bennett has a big secret: he's from 2012, not 1995 and has traveled through time in search of someone from his present. 

Much of this premise mirrors the plot of the hordes of paranormal YA novels that exploded in recent years: average girl, mysterious book, special powers, etcetera, etcetera. However, despite that the basics of Time Between Us are nothing new, there's something fresh and fun in the writing and the engaging pace of the story. Some of this is because of the travel-meets-time travel aspect which we see through Anna's enthusiastic, very (in a good way) teenage eyes. But it's also because the wintery Evanston setting is well done and Anna has friends whose characters are well-developed and important to the story. She has a rich life before Bennett--she simply dreams of more.

Unfortunately, as much as I was swept up in Anna and Bennett's story and the question of if and how they could possibly be together, there is much in this story that's problematic.

Mini-Reviews: Two Historical-ish Novels That Didn't Work

​I used to gobble up historical fiction, especially a million years ago when I was a teenager. History piqued my interest from a young age and I loved reading books with these settings. However, as an adult, I've found historical fiction a tougher nut to crack, with it being my most "did-not-finish" genre by a long mile. 

I suspect my lack of engagement with historical fiction has to do with my having read a lot of excellent historical narrative non-fiction in college, graduate school and later. Top-notch works from that genre just grab me in a way that fiction often falters. It may sound snotty, but it's true. 

However, I keep revisiting historical fiction because I want to revisit that love I once had--it used to thrill me to visit a time period other than my own and feel immersed in the experiences inherent to that time. Recently, I tried out a couple more historical novels, both YA, one a realistic novel set in 1938 Los Angeles, the other a historical with fantasy elements set in the pre-Civil War American South. Unfortunately, I was unable to finish either, but on the bright side, I think they both have audiences who will adore them.

Review: If You Find Me by Emily Murdoch

The Advance Readers Edition of If You Find Me arrived with the words "Beautiful, Wonderful, Powerful, Heart-Breaking, Impressive, Compelling and Emotional" dominating its cover. Emily Murdoch's book captivated me in all those ways and more. The words, "hope-filled, joyous and inspirational" describe my whole-hearted response.

Fifteen-year-old Carey leads you  through the story of herself and her younger sister, Jenessa, who lived in a dilapidated old camper in the depths of a national forest. Their mother, a meth addict, fabricates a reason for the life in the forest. She holds them there to keep them "safe" from Carey's father who she claims will wreak great harm and havoc upon their serene woodland existence if he should find them. 

The mother comes and goes as she desires. Her mission in life is to fulfill her need for meth; to that end, she willingly puts her children in jeopardy to keep herself high. The only people the two girls see is the occasional man coming in search of payment for their mother's drugs. The girls have lived in the forest for ten years with a few books, scant food supplies, a violin and their mother's stories of the horrible fate that awaits them outside their forest home.

Review: Bruised by Sarah Skilton

My black belt represents everything I could've done and everything I didn't do, the only time it really mattered.​

Sarah Skilton's debut novel, Bruised, opens with a gut-punch of a first scene. Imogen, a 16-year old Tae Kwon Do black belt has just witnessed a gunman be shot and killed by police while attempting a holdup at the diner. Imogen hides under a table, paralyzed as the events unfold before her.

Thanks to her years of training to achieve her black belt, ​Imogen always believed that she was stronger than everyone else, a real-life superhero, that she could and would diffuse a volatile situation. In the aftermath of the violence at the diner, she's wracked by guilt, convinced that she should have saved the gunman.

Imogen's entire identity is wrapped up in her Tae Kwon Do achievements. She studied hard to achieve her mediocre grades so she could practice the sport, was in constant training, followed the discipline's rules about behavior and conduct and ate all the right things. And yet, for Imogen, those years of work were all for naught ​when it really mattered that day at the diner.

This belief sends Imogen's sense of who she is into a tailspin as she has to piece her identity back together as she navigates her changing family relationships, friendships and her relationship with a boy, Ricky, who understands her experience in a way that no one else can.

​The sharpest element of Bruised is Imogen's voice--it's absolutely unwavering in its authenticity.

If a girl punches someone, she's crazy. If a guy punches someone, he's dealing with his feelings. He's normal.

Early Review: Nobody But Us by Kristin Halbrook

We gotta be hidden here in this new world we made. Just silence keeping all the shit of the real world away.

I rarely reflect on authorial intent when reading. I figure, once a book's in the wild, it's meaning is up to each reader's interpretation. 

I think readers will find each of those concepts in Nobody But Us, depending on what they want or hope to read, but I'm still unsure as to what the intention of this story may be.

Regardless, what I do know is that Nobody But Us is a strong debut, and a stark depiction of teens facing horrid circumstances which they're ill-equipped to handle.

Nobody But Us is told in alternating (and very distinct) perspectives from the points-of-view of WIll and Zoe. Will has just turned 18 and aged out of the foster care system. Now legally an adult,  Will hopes to escape his dead-end, hard-scrabble, small North Dakota town with his girlfriend. Zoe is younger, 15, and flees with WIll to escape her violent father. The pair sets out on a road trip, destined for Las Vegas where they hope to blend into the anonymity of the city and remake their lives.

Before I knew escape, life was something to be endured, passively. Now I hunger for it.

Except running from the past is a hard thing.

Review: Uses for Boys by Erica Lorraine Scheidt

Sometimes the idea of a book is ultimately stronger than the story within.

In the case of Erica Lorraine Scheidt's debut novel, Uses for Boys, I found myself distracted by the innovative take on teen sexuality. However, once I was stuck into the story, the execution ultimately did not work. 

Uses for Boys opens when Anna, whose first-person point-of-view is told in a stream-of-consciousness, real-time style, is a child, alone with her mother, never having known her father. She believes that, together, she and her mom can take on anything. But soon, a string of stepfathers and a career mean that Anna rarely sees her mother, she believes she has no family.

I want to go back to the tell-me-again times when I slept in her bed and we were everything together. When I was everything to her. Everything she needed.

She soon discovers that boys can make her feel needed, that they can fill a void for her. The attention makes her feel special, even if it means that the girls shun her and call Anna vicious names. 

The first few chapters of Uses for Boys make for powerful stuff.

The perspective of young Anna as she decides to allow herself to go down the path of allowing boys to use her, to abuse her, is heartbreaking. She eventually starts playing house with a boy every day and they become sexually involved. This makes her feel important and grown up. This boy needs her in a way her real family never did.

Of course, it's all just a fantasy and it doesn't last.

And then he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t say he’ll miss me or that he’s sorry. Does he know he’s leaving me? That I’ll have to ride the bus home alone and come home alone and be home alone? They leave, I think, just like my mom says.