Friday, September 26, 2014

It's so good I posted it twice: My take on The Banks of Certain Rivers


Jon Harrison's novel The Banks of Certain Rivers has been picked up by a publisher. In honor of the release, I am reposting my review and a description of the book. Happy reading!

In the lakeside resort town of Port Manitou, Michigan, dedicated teacher and running coach Neil Kazenzakis shoulders responsibilities that would break a lesser man: a tragic accident has left his wife seriously debilitated, he cares for his mother-in-law who suffers from dementia, and he’s raising his teenage son, Chris, on his own. On top of all that, he’s also secretly been seeing Lauren, his mother-in-law’s caregiver.

When Neil breaks up a fight one day after school, he doesn’t give the altercation much thought. He’s got bigger issues on his mind, like the fact that Lauren is ready for a commitment and he has to figure out a way to tell Chris that he’s in a serious relationship with someone other than the boy’s mother. But when an anonymous person uploads a video of the fight to YouTube, the stunning footage suggests Neil assaulted a student. With his job, his family, and his reputation suddenly in jeopardy, Neil must prove his innocence and win back the trust of the entire community—including his son’s.
Jon Harrison’s The Banks of Certain Rivers is a powerful tale of family, loss, and the meaning of love.

After reading just a couple of pages of The Banks of Certain Rivers, I was totally captivated by the writing of Jon Harrison.

In an instant, life as you know it can change. What if the person you loved the most was suddenly taken from you? Physically they're alive, but in every way that counts the person you once knew is gone forever. Would you have the strength to move on? If you did move on, would you be consumed by guilt? At what point do you allow yourself to be happy again?

A freak accident leaves the wife of Neil Kazenzakis in a permanent vegetative state. He is left to raise their son Christopher alone. He has a network of family and friends to help him, but they can't fill the void left by Wendy. He finds some comfort in alcohol and prescription pills. He would rather numb the pain than actually feel it. It's hard to get over someone you've been in love with since the ninth grade.

Neil has always done things right. Upon discovering Wendy was pregnant, Neil gave up the chance at a promising career in Japan. Instead he stayed in their small Michigan town, he became a teacher and did everything he could to provide for his family, becoming a popular teacher and track coach. He did everything by the book. E-mails Neil writes to Wendy offer a unique look into their relationship. Neil knows Wendy will never see his words, but it's therapeutic to get his feelings out. He can still connect with her. In his own way, he can still confide in her. When Neil finally starts to heal, life hits him hard again. Is this a sign? Is someone or something trying to prevent him from being happy?

Neil has a lot on his plate. Not only is he a single father, but he also has to look after his mother-in-law Carol, who is descending into dementia. Lauren, one of Carol's nurses, develops a special bond with Neil. They're both in at a crossroads in their life. Lauren is just coming out of a bad relationship and Neil is wondering if he deserves a fresh start. Secret dinners, stolen kisses, and late-night sleepovers give Neil some hope at a happy life. But what about Wendy? Wendy's mind is long gone, but what if there is some part of her that is angry? What if there is some part of her that can still feel? What about Christopher? Will his relationship with Lauren hurt Chris? He has to tell Chris the truth some time. But when is the right time? Will it ever be the right time? Just when Neil thinks the timing is right, his professional career is sent into a tailspin. A devastating accusation puts not just his career in jeopardy, but his freedom. How much can one person take?

I love reading books about the family dynamic. The majority of similar books I've read were told from a female perspective, but it's refreshing to get a different point of view. A story like this would make a great movie. This was an engaging and emotional roller coaster.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Happy Paperback Release Day: A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger


Last year I was captivated story of a teenage boy with an eating disorder in A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger. In honor of the paperback release Ms. Metzger is stopping by my blog with a guest post!



My novel, “A Trick of the Light,” is the story of a 15-year-old boy who develops an eating disorder.  The book came out in hardcover in 2013, and over the past year many people have written to me with   This inspired me to put together a special section for the just-released paperback, called “10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Eating Disorders.”
new information and questions.

Here are five of them with some comments of my own:

1.  The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) estimates that 30 million people in this country have eating disorders at some point in their lives.

The hardcover mentions the fact that 10 million in the U.S. have eating disorders and that 10 percent of them are male—meaning one million boys and men.  Since then, I’ve learned that this figure is probably too low, that in fact as many as 20 million people are suffering from an eating disorder at any one time, and that one-third of them are male.

2.  Children as young as five have been diagnosed with eating disorders.

Healthcare professionals are calling this “a disturbing trend.”  To put it mildly.

3.  Male wrestlers are particularly susceptible to eating disorders because they have to “make weight,” and mistakenly believe that competing in a lower weight class will give them an advantage.  For rapid weight loss before a weigh-in, up to three-quarters of high school and collegiate wrestlers will fast, overexercise, and restrict fluids.

My main character, Mike Welles, is not a wrestler, but so many wrestlers struggle with eating disorders I wanted to shine a spotlight on this.

4.  The “Maudsley Approach” to eating disorders, also known as family-based treatment, has seen much success in recent years.  According to U.S. News & World Report, it “emphasizes recovery over cause, and care provided by parents, not by doctors.”

This carefully structured method is an alternative to residential treatment (hospitalization).

5.  If you want to help someone with an eating disorder, it’s important to take action quickly because eating disorders can escalate rapidly and are so deadly (with a mortality rate as high as 20 percent).  A good first step is calling the NEDA hotline:  1-800-931-2237.

This last one may be most important, because very often people with eating disorders deny they have eating disorders and resist treatment, and most people do not recover without intervention.  It’s up to family and friends to take that first step.    

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Sneak Peek at Day 21 !!


I'm currently reading The 100 by Kass Morgan and today is the release day for the sequel, Day 21. Read on for a sneak peak!! 

Chapter 1 - Wells
by Kass Morgan

Author of The 100 and its sequel Day 21
No one wanted to stand near the grave. Although four of their own were already buried in the makeshift cemetery, the rest of the hundred were still disturbed by the idea of lowering a body into the ground.

No one wanted to stand with their backs to the trees either. Since the attack, a creaking branch had become enough to make the anxious survivors jump. And so, the nearly one hundred people who'd gathered to say good-bye to Asher stood in a tightly packed semicircle, their eyes darting between the corpse on the ground and the shadows in the forest.

The comforting crackle of the fire was conspicuously absent. They'd run out of firewood last night, and no one had been willing to venture out for more. Wells would've gone himself, but he'd been busy digging the grave. No one had volunteered for that job either, except for a tall, quiet Arcadian boy named Eric.

"Are we sure he's really dead?" Molly whispered, edging back from the deep hole, as if worried it might swallow her up as well. She was only thirteen but looked younger. At least, she'd used to. Wells remembered helping her after the crash, when tears and ash had streaked her round cheeks. Now the girl's face was thin, almost gaunt, and there was a cut on her forehead that didn't look like it'd been properly cleaned.

Wells's eyes flashed involuntarily to Asher's neck, to the ragged wound where the arrow had pierced his throat. It'd been two days since Asher died, two days since the mysterious figures materialized on the ridge, upending everything the Colonists had ever been told, everything they thought they knew.

They had been sent to Earth as living test subjects, the first people to set foot on the planet in three hundred years. But they were mistaken.

Some people had never left.

It had all happened so quickly. Wells hadn't realized anything was wrong until Asher fell to the ground, gagging as he swiped desperately at the arrow lodged in his throat. That's when Wells spun around -- and saw them. Silhouetted against the setting sun, the strangers looked more like demons than humans. Wells had blinked, half expecting the figures to vanish. There was no way they were real.

But hallucinations didn't shoot arrows.

After his calls for help went unheeded, Wells had carried Asher to the infirmary tent, where they stored the medical supplies they'd salvaged from the fire. But it was no use. By the time Wells began frantically digging for bandages, Asher was already gone.

How could there be people on Earth? It was impossible. No one had survived the Cataclysm. That was incontrovertible, as deeply ingrained in Wells's mind as the fact that water froze at 0 degrees Celsius, or that planets revolved around the sun. And yet, he'd seen them with his own eyes. People who certainly hadn't come down on the dropship from the Colony. Earthborns.

"He's dead," Wells said to Molly as he rose wearily to his feet before realizing that most of the group was staring at him. A few weeks ago, their expressions would've been full of distrust, if not outright contempt. No one believed that the Chancellor's son had actually been Confined. It'd been all too easy for Graham to convince them that Wells had been sent to spy for his father. But now, they were looking at him expectantly.

In the chaos after the fire, Wells had organized teams to sort through the remaining supplies and start building permanent structures. His interest in Earth architecture, once a source of annoyance to his pragmatic father, had enabled Wells to design the three wooden cabins that now stood in the center of the clearing.

Wells glanced up at the darkening sky. He'd give anything to have the Chancellor see the cabins eventually. Not to prove a point -- after seeing his father shot on the launch deck, Wells's resentment had drained faster than the color from the Chancellor's cheeks. Now he only wished his father would someday get to call Earth home. The rest of the Colony was supposed to join them once conditions on Earth were deemed safe, but twenty-one days had passed without so much as a glimmer from the sky.

As Wells lowered his eyes back to the ground, his thoughts returned to the task at hand: saying farewell to the boy they were about to send to a much darker resting place.

A girl next to him shivered. "Can we move this along?" she said. "I don't want to stand out here all night."

"Watch your tone," another girl named Kendall snapped, her delicate lips drawn into a frown. At first, Wells had assumed she was a fellow Phoenician, but he'd eventually realized that her haughty stare and clipped cadence were just an impression of the girls Wells had grown up with. It was a fairly common practice among young Waldenites and Arcadians, although he'd never met anyone who did it quite as well as Kendall.

Wells turned his head from side to side, searching for Graham, the only other Phoenician aside from Wells and Clarke. He didn't generally like letting Graham take control of the group, but the other boy had been friends with Asher and was better equipped than Wells to speak at his funeral. However, his was one of the few faces missing from the crowd -- aside from Clarke's. She'd set off right after the fire with Bellamy to search for his sister, leaving nothing but the memory of the five toxic words she'd hurled at Wells before she left: You destroy everything you touch.

© 2014 by Alloy Entertainment
Author Bio
Kass Morgan, 
New York Times bestselling author of The 100 and its sequel Day 21, received a bachelor's degree from Brown University and a master's from Oxford University. She currently works as an editor and lives in Brooklyn, New York. For more information please visit http://alloyentertainment.com/ and follow the author on Twitter.     

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Happy Paperback Release Day: The Partner Track by Helen Wan


Please welcome Helen Wan author of The Partner Track. Yesterday was the paperback release for her book!

Diversity in Fiction by Helen Wan

First, thanks for inviting me to spend some time with the readers of AS I TURN THE PAGES.  It’s great to meet you.  I’m Helen Wan, and I’m an author, lawyer, and mom.  My novel, THE PARTNER TRACK, is the story of a young woman of color competing for partnership in an “old-boy” law firm.  It’s about how race, sex, class, and “outsider” status complicate the lives of talented young people climbing the corporate ladder. 

A lot of people ask me what prompted me to write this book. I just felt it was a story whose time had come.  Years ago, as a young Chinese-American woman fresh out of law school, having just landed at my first job at a huge firm, I realized that all the skills that had served me so well until that point – knowing how to study hard, get good grades, take tests – were suddenly out the window.  Everyone at the firm was smart and good at school, so that wasn’t good enough anymore.  There were predictable patterns of who among us was succeeding and who was not, who quickly found powerful sponsors and mentors and who did not, and it all had to do with how well and how quickly you mastered the subtle art of fitting in.

This was all back in the days before most companies paid much attention to “diversity and inclusion,” at least in any honest or meaningful way, so if you didn’t happen to have a background where you’d been exposed to this particular culture and its set of unwritten rules, you had to teach them to yourself ASAP.  I looked around and realized they weren’t exactly passing out decoder rings.  And I felt there SHOULD be some sort of primer or handbook for those of us who felt like fish out of water in that privileged, rarefied environment.  So, dutiful law student that I was, I went to my favorite bookstores in search of a book about how to succeed as a young woman of color in corporate America while remaining authentic and true to yourself.  Finding none, I decided to try writing that book myself.  

Now, all these years later, that book is out in the world.  And I’m thrilled by the reader response. I appreciate and save every single note from folks who say “Thank you for telling this story” or “This is the first novel with a main character I can actually relate to.”  One of my favorite messages came from a young African American woman who had just finished her summer working at a prestigious law firm (much like the fictitious firm portrayed in my novel) and said, “I only wish I’d found your book at the beginning of my summer, rather than toward the end.  It would have made me feel so much less alone.”  Well, given why I wrote this book in the first place, there was no higher compliment than that.  It made me feel like the twelve long years trying to write and get this story out there were worth it.

A lot of people ask me how difficult it was to find a traditional publisher for a story about race and gender diversity. A very astute question!  During the long period of gestation for this novel, I definitely encountered obstacles trying to convince agents and editors in the mainstream publishing industry that this subject matter and story did indeed have a ready, eager audience.  The problem was that it wasn’t a “diverse” story in the way that certain people wanted it to be “diverse.”  Although it is currently fashionable to say that publishers are finally willing to entertain more stories with “diverse” characters, I think it’s very important to point out that there is often still a VAST chasm between what mainstream publishers might think is the kind of “diverse” story readers want to see, and what constitutes a genuine, authentic story that rings true to the folks who actually live and breathe these experiences. 

Case in point: The problem with my book, I kept hearing, was that it did not fall neatly into any pre-established “bucket” that the publishing industry knew how to market.

For one thing, my book features an Asian American female protagonist, but I was told over and over that the rest of it doesn’t read like a so-called “ethnic novel” -- a term I find to be of limited utility anyway.  (I mean, what were James Joyce and John Updike doing, if not writing about their “ethnicity” on some level?  But I digress.  That’s a much longer conversation for another time, and would require wine.)  Suffice it to say that it was a problem for some agents and editors, that there were no arranged marriages, no descriptions of exotic wedding banquets, no soul-searching trips to ancestral villages in Asia, in my entire book. This was apparently confusing to some folks.  Could I please either make it much more “Chinese” or just take out the “ethnic stuff” entirely?  I was even asked by one agent whether I had ever considered rewriting this book, but “not from the point of view of a minority.”  Um, no.  Just, all kinds of no.

Second, my novel features corporate intrigue, corruption, and a billion-dollar merger as part of its plot, but the protagonist is not a young white male hotshot resembling a young Tom Cruise, but is instead a Chinese-American woman lawyer at the top of her game. But who’d ever heard of a legal thriller narrated by a young Chinese-American woman lawyer?

Third, I very intentionally adopted a direct, snappy, straight-ahead narrative voice for my book, and it has a romantic love interest and flirtatious banter, so should it be treated as traditional “chick lit”?  (By the way, see same comment above re: the term “ethnic novel.”)  But the consensus came back that it wasn’t really “chick lit” either because who had ever heard of chick lit that tackled identity politics or diversity in corporate America?

So, then, the basic challenge in getting this novel published was that the mainstream publishing industry knows very well how to market Amy Tan, and they know how to market John Grisham, and they know how to market Lauren Weisberger, but no one could quite put their finger on how to market Amy Tan Grisham Weisberger.  

But persistence can pay off.  Finally, I was fortunate to meet a terrific agent who got my book into the hands of my amazing editor, who understood exactly the story I was trying to tell. And I’m grateful for everything that has happened since.

I’m optimistic that we will continue to see more authentically diverse stories getting out there into the world.  Yes, progress is glacial, but it’s progress.  I do think the television industry – particularly cable – “gets” it faster and better than either the book industry or the film industry.  A lot of young writers of color have asked me what we can do to help the cause.  Well, for better or worse, the media gatekeepers – publishers, networks, studios – must listen to that all powerful sales number.  So writers and readers and filmgoers need to vote with our feet.  It’s important to support artists of color, and those people trying to tell new, non-traditional stories, whenever we can.  Second, we also need more realistic pathways for diverse men and women to enter careers in publishing and other media businesses themselves – where more of us can be in a position to influence acquisition decisions.  If the gatekeepers themselves begin to represent a greater, more diverse set of viewpoints and cultural backgrounds, then we as readers will all wind up with richer literary choices.

By the way, I always enjoy hearing from readers.  So please come find me on Twitter @helenwan1 and like my Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorHelenWan

Thanks again for inviting me to join you on AS I TURN THE PAGES.  Happy reading!

- Helen Wan


Bio:
Helen Wan is the author of THE PARTNER TRACK.  Before becoming a full time writer, Helen was a lawyer for many years in New York. She’s now a frequent speaker on diversity and inclusion and women in the workplace and has written for The Washington Post, CNN, and The Daily Beast. She’s also a new mom and lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York, where she is at work on a new novel. Helen’s author website is www.helenwan.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenwan1 and like her Facebook page at:
THE PARTNER TRACK will be available in paperback on September 9.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

My take on: The Art of Adapting

For the past two weeks my commute to work has been flying by. I normally take a nap on the way to work, and read on the way home from work. But recently I have given up my morning naps. Why? Because I was so engrossed in The Art of Adapting by Cassandra Dunn.

I'm a sucker for family dramas. The family in this book certainly has its issues.

Lana is recently separated from her husband, Graham. She's left to raise her teenage children, Byron and Abby. Her money is dwindling. On top of all that, she has to keep an eye on her eccentric brother Matt, who has Asperger's. A renewed friendship with a former boyfriend has Lana thinking about dating again. Lana's perspective wasn't anything new, but it was enjoyable to read. She's wondering what she did or didn't do to save her marriage. When will life get better?

Everyone in this book is in their own world. The book is told from all four viewpoints, and I enjoyed taking a journey through Abby and Matt's world the most.

It's clear from the beginning of the book that Abby has an eating disorder. But everyone close to her seems to be in denial about it. Even Abby is in denial. If she just keeps the weight off, the cute guy in her chem class will finally notice her. If she just keeps the weight off, life in general will be better. Of course that's not realistic. But you can't expect a teenager to live in reality. Abby is the kind of character you just want to give a hug. Reading the book, I know she needs more than that but just a little more personal attention from her parents would have gone a long way.

Matt is a bit of an enigma. To the outside world, he's this insanely smart, odd, and creative person. His quirks include the same food for breakfast, special silverware, special coats, special seats, and staring out the window for hours. He doesn't like a lot of close contact. He doesn't like a lot of noise. If his day deviates from the plan in anyway, Matt goes into a tailspin. To the average person that sounds crazy. But from his perspective this makes perfect sense. Routine is essential to someone like Matt, and not everyone can understand that. Of course Matt isn't meant to represent everyone with Asperger's, but it was nice to read a perspective that isn't prevalent in today's fiction.

This one really held my attention. This family's story is extremely relatable. Everyone at some point will be left wondering what if? What could they have done to be a better person? Are they on the right path? When will they be the person they were meant to be? Definitely a book worth reading.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Simon & Schuster) in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My take on: Meet Me in Barcelona


It's been a long time since I wrote a review, but I've got one for you! What's this one about? I've never been to Spain, but I thought I could live vicariously through Meet Me in Barcelona by Mary Carter!

A young woman and her boyfriend win a surprise trip to Barcelona. How and why? Should they really question it? Her mother is terminally ill. Should she go? But she needs a break. However, that break will be short-lived. Secrets from the past will threaten everything. What's the secret? Or secrets?! I was definitely intrigued.

Grace Sawyer and her boyfriend, Jake, embark on the trip of a lifetime. Each day in Spain is met with clues to their mysterious benefactor. Grace has a sinking feeling it's a person from her past. A person she has spent 10-plus years trying to forget.

Carrie Ann wants to reconnect with the woman she loved like a sister. Years ago, Carrie Ann was one of the many foster kids Grace's parents took in. They were best friends. Best friends who became extremely co-dependent, so much that Grace's parents hated Carrie Ann's influence over their daughter. The death of someone close to both girls leads to years of estrangement ... and eventually Barcelona.

As characters, I could not stand Grace or Carrie Ann. The mere mention of Carrie Ann's name is enough to turn Grace into such an ANNOYING woman! She never told Jake about her foster sister, and he wonders what else Grace is hiding from him. She doesn't want to be around Carrie Ann, but has such a hard time telling her that. Grace wants to express her feelings, but when push comes to shove she clams up. Carrie is equally frustrating. She's needy and manipulative. She has a way of casually getting people to do exactly what she wants. I couldn't tell if Carrie Ann's intentions were good, bad, or indifferent. She claims to be in an abusive marriage. She claims she wants out of the relationship. She claims to want Grace back in her life. But she has such an odd way of showing it. Does she want help from Grace? Or something else? It takes a long time to get to that something else.

When I read the e-mail pitch, I was definitely intrigued by the promise of some mystery. But that doesn't happen until the second half of the book. Jake and Carrie Ann go missing! I won't tell anymore than that because you should read the book. My attention was certainly piqued. But the pacing leading up to that moment was a little slow for me. Grace and Carrie Ann were not my favorite characters, but there were things I did like. Jake was No. 1, I felt like he was the voice of reason. I did feel like I was transported to Barcelona; I have to go one day! This might not have been my favorite book, but I would certainly read another book by Mary Carter.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (Kensington Publishing Corp.) as part of a blog tour with  Pump up Your Book.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I'm Still Here!!

Where have I been? Why haven't I posted lately?

Answers:

On vacation. Just got back two days ago.

I want to post at least once a week, but sometimes I just don't have the time. And.....lately some books did not hold my interest. Like......

Hidden by Catherine McKenzie. I wanted to like it. I liked her first book Spin. In her latest book, two women are mourning the loss of the same man. Only one is his wife and the other is not. It sounds scandalous, but Catherine McKenzie explored the depth of the relationships between these characters and the consequences of their decisions.

I had high hopes, but I just couldn't get into this one. I think I started reading this one back in April. I stopped reading for a week or two, then I went back, then I stopped, then I went back....you get the picture! I'm a very cyclical reader. I read several books at once, and sometimes only one or two will really grab my attention. I stuck with Hidden for several months, but a couple of weeks ago I just had to put it aside. I wasn't connecting with the story or characters. It was not working for me. I will absolutely read another book by Catherine McKenzie, but I had to breakup with Hidden. In a couple months, I might give it another shot.

So, when will I post my next review or book-related post? Soon! I promise! I'm still here!
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