All the Broken People: A Review

Lucy King is ready to start over in Woodstock, New York. She has her dog, she has cash, she has her suitcase with her mother’s vintage silk scarf and her father’s hammer. She has plans for a quiet life where her past will never come back to haunt her.

All the Broken People by Leah KonenEnter Vera and John, Lucy’s painfully stylish neighbors who quickly take Lucy under their wing. After being isolated for so long Lucy craves their attention and friendship enough that she knows she’d do almost anything to keep it.

When the couple asks for Lucy’s help to get a fresh start of their own, Lucy knows she has to help. But what starts as a bit of fraud with minimal consequences and an accidental death becomes something else when someone turns up dead.

Receiving more attention than she wanted, Lucy finds herself at the center of the investigation not just as a witness but a likely suspect. After coming so far to start again, Lucy will have to figure out who she can trust–and who’s really to blame–if she wants to keep the new beginning she fought so hard to create in All the Broken People (2020) by Leah Konen.

Find it on Bookshop.

All the Broken People is Konen’s adult debut. You might recognize her name from her previous YA titles.

All the Broken People is an eerie story where every tension is amplified by Lucy’s isolated, first person narration. After escaping a relationship marked by gaslighting and abuse, Lucy no longer trusts anyone. Not even herself. As her carefully constructed life in Woodstock begins to collapse, she’s forced to confront the events that led her here and what she has to do to get out again.

All the Broken People is the kind of book where the less you know when you start, the better. Konen expertly demonstrates her range as an author with this thriller debut filled with menace and ground-pulled-out-from-under-you twists.

Possible Pairings: Only Truth by Julie Cameron, The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney, The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Then She Was Gone by Lisa Jewell

Love and Other Train Wrecks: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Love and Other Train Wrecks by Leah KonenAmmy doesn’t believe in true love. But she’s still riding a train from Virginia to upstate New York to attend her dad’s second wedding. She isn’t sure if her mom will ever forgive her. But she also knows it’s too late to turn back.

Noah is a total romantic. So much so that he’s taking a train back home to try and win back his first love—the girl he broke up with before he left for college.

Ammy and Noah are both desperate to get to their destination–even if it means they’re stuck traveling together after their train breaks down in a snow storm.

When a quick detour turns into an all-day trip it seems like Ammy and Noah might be falling for each other. But at the end of the journey an unexpected surprise changes everything and leaves both Ammy and Noah wondering if love and their train wreck relationship can be salvaged in Love and Other Train Wrecks (2018) by Leah Konen.

Love and Other Train Wrecks is a standalone novel. This contemporary romance plays out over the course of twenty-four hours during their madcap journey to upstate New York.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of books where a main character is forced to choose between their parents because of divorce. Ammy, unfortunately, has no good choices and spends a lot of the novel wondering if going to her father’s wedding is worth the effort when she isn’t sure if her father even wants her there or it her mom will ever forgive her. But Konen’s characterization and plotting more than makes up for starting the novel with this premise. Ammy and Noah are fun and sympathetic whether you’re a romantic or not.

Love and Other Train Wrecks is a fast-paced contemporary novel filled with humor and romance. Readers will immediately be swept up in Ammy and Noah’s journey–bumps and all.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Once and For All by Sarah Desseh, Save the Date by Morgan Matson, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

Author Interview #2: Leah Konen on The Romantics

Leah Konen auhor photoAfter reading and loving Leah’s sophomore novel, I was very happy to pick up an advance copy of her third novel, The Romantics, at BEA this year. The Romantics is a new direction for Konen and an excellent choice for anyone who is a fan of romantic comedies (or even a reluctant convert like the novel’s protagonist Gael). I’m thrilled to have Leah back for her second interview here to talk about her latest novel.

MP: What was the inspiration for The Romantics?

LK: I wanted to explore love in all its forms—from romantic to familial to friendship—and there seemed like no better way to do that than from the perspective of Love. Additionally, my deep love of romantic comedies didn’t hurt.

MP: The Romantics is narrated by Love, a self-described non-corporeal entity. Although Love tells the story in a distinct narrative voice (not to mention plays a key role), readers never actually see Love. What was it like writing a story where the narrator is removed from the story in that way? If love were to adopt a human form for a while, what would they look like?

LK: If Love were to adopt a human form, she (or he) would probably be like me, at least in the case of this book. I took my own experience of dating extensively in New York City, plus the experience of being in a five-year relationship with my then-boyfriend (now-husband), as well as anecdotes from friends, and pulled it all into little observations on love and relationships. They’re not by any means perfect or exhaustive, but through Love’s asides and footnotes, I wanted to show the different ways people love each other, the amazing things we feel when we first fall in love, and the positive impact healthy relationships can have on people’s lives.

MP: Like your previous novel, The Last Time We Were Us, The Romantics is set in North Carolina where the Cantina is the site of some important moments including hot sauce theft and a really awkward meeting between Gael and his ex. How did you decide what real locations to feature in this novel?

LK: Unlike in The Last Time We Were Us, which is set in a fictional composite town in North Carolina, The Romantics is set in a very real one that just happens to be where I went to college. To the best of my ability, I chose places that were near and dear to me during those years (and that are still around). Don’t tell Cosmic Cantina, but I may or may not have stolen bottles of hot sauce on occasion.

MP: The Romantics is your second 2016 release (congratulations!). What has it been like having two books coming out so close together? Did your time working on both novels overlap?

LK: Not only did my time working on both novels overlap, but I was also planning a Brooklyn wedding through all of it—it’s a good thing they were both romance books, because I was certainly in the right headspace for it. Needless to say, 2016 has been quite a year, and I’m looking forward to enjoying a bit calmer next year.

MP: The Romantics is your third novel and features a male protagonist–unlucky-in-love Gael. Was getting into Gael’s head any different from writing your earlier novels with female protagonists? Do you share Gael’s enthusiasm and taste when it comes to movies?

LK: I didn’t really approach Gael any differently than any of my characters, but writing through his perspective did make me think about traditional gender roles and how they’re portrayed, particularly in YA. I think a lot of boys and men are far more sensitive than society tells them they should be, and I really enjoyed portraying a non-macho dude. Plus, it was fun to turn some of the romantic comedy tropes on their heads by having a guy take on the traditional romantic role.

Re: movies, I do share his enthusiasm, particularly for Hitchcock, who is my favorite director. His obsession with seventies dramas like Serpico is a nod to my husband’s faves.

MP: During the novel Love describes (via footnotes) various types of people including Romantics, Cynics, Drifters, Serial Monogamists and more. How would Love classify you?

LK: Definitely a Cynic, but I’ve taken on more Romantic tendencies since meeting my husband (cheesy, I know, but true!).

MP: Since The Romantics celebrates love in all its forms, I have to ask: What is your favorite romantic movie or book?

LK: Pride and Prejudice!

MP: Can you tell me anything about your next project?

LK: Yes, it’s about two teens who meet on an Amtrak train in a snowstorm and the whirlwind night they spend together when the train breaks down. It’s inspired by It Happened One Night, one of my favorite romantic comedy movies.

Thanks again to Leah for this fantastic interview.

You can see more about Leah and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of The Romantics.

The Romantics: A Review

The Romantics by Leah KonenGael Brennan is a textbook Romantic; he believes in love and he loves the idea of being in love. Unfortunately, life seems intent on squashing his Romantic tendencies first with his parents’ painful separation and a painful breakup with his first girlfriend.

Love has big plans for Gael and can see big things in his future. But only if Gael’s youthful relationships go a certain way–and do not include a dreaded Rebound. When Romantic Gael meets a Serial Monogamist, it seems like Love’s plans for Gael are doomed to failure.

Fortunately, Love has more than a few tricks ready to use to set Gael straight. In trying to redirect Gael’s path to the right romance, Love (and Gael) will realize that sometimes even the best relationships aren’t meant to last forever in The Romantics (2016) by Leah Konen.

The Romantics is narrated by Love who is an omniscient presence throughout the novel. Although Love does not interact with any characters directly, Love does play a hand in near-misses, coincidences, and other interventions to try and move things in the right direction with Gael.

Gael is a fun protagonist and his journey both with romantic love and his other relationships is authentic and entertaining. Gael has a lot of knocks between a painful breakup and his parents’ separation which is painful both in its reality and because it comes as such a shock to Gael and his younger sister.He is realistically angry and frustrated but also remains optimistic as he tries to move forward.

Although the story understandably spends a lot of time on Gael’s romantic travails, The Romantics also underscores that love comes in all forms–both romantic and not–including a really lovely friendship arc between Gael and his best friend Mason. (Though it is worth noting that the novel is generally hetero-normative as the main relationships remain male-female.)

Because Love spends time with all of the major characters, The Romantics also has a thoroughly developed cast and a plot that develops from multiple angles with some surprising results. The Romantics is a breezy and fun story and a sweet romance filled with witty asides from Love along with footnotes and illustrations. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: My Lady Jane by Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows; Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, The Truth Commission by Susan Juby, Everywhere You Want to Be by Christina June, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, In Real Life by Jessica Love, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Flannery by Lisa Moore, My Unscripted Life by Lauren Morrill, Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Tonight the Streets Are Ours by Leila Sales, Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle, The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, P. S. I Like You by Kasie West, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

You can also check out my interview with Leah Konen about this book.

The Last Time We Were Us: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“We’re all just trying to be the best version of us, the only way we know how.”

The Last Time We Were Us by Leah KonenLiz used to go by Lizzie and her life used to be simple. But the summer before her senior year is anything but as she sifts through the expectations of her friends and family to figure what she might really want. Thanks to her best friend MacKenzie’s concentrated efforts, she and Liz are on the verge of popularity. Liz is getting invited to the best parties. Everyone is certain that if Liz plays her cards right she’ll have Innis Taylor–the hottest and most popular guy in Bonneville–as her boyfriend.

When her childhood best friend, Jason, comes home unexpectedly from juvie the obvious thing to do is ignore him. Liz doesn’t owe Jason anything. She isn’t even sure she can give him the friendship that he’s asking for. Liz never wanted to believe that Jason was capable of attacking someone but the rest of the town is convinced that he is guilty and still dangerous.

Liz has every reason to avoid Jason and everything to lose if anyone catches them together. But the more Liz remembers about who she and Jason used to be together, the more she finds herself drawn to him and the secrets he keeps alluding to that surround his arrest. Liz will have to learn how to trust Jason again as she remembers his role in her past and decides if he deserves a place in her future in The Last Time We Were Us (2016) by Leah Konen.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Last Time We Were Us is Konen’s second novel.

This book explores a lot of the themes covered in Matthew Quick’s Every Exquisite Thing. However, the idea of finding yourself and the value to be had in teenage rebellion is handled more effectively here and without the obvious disdain Quick displays for his heroine throughout.

The Last Time We Were Us is a subtle, sexy story about figuring out who you want to be when everyone already seems to know you. Liz remains extremely aware of who she is and of her own values–even if that sometimes means deeply disappointing those closest to her. While this story has action and twists, it remains largely introspective with Liz working through some of her largest conflicts on her own as she tries to choose the kind of person she wants to be moving forward.

This book is one of those formative stories where the writing is so smart and so on point that it often feels like have your own thoughts and ideas spoken back to you. Konen’s evocative descriptions of Bonneville and a varied (though probably all white) cast help to further develop the story. The Last Time We Were Us is a thoughtful exploration of what place nostalgia and memory have in life as you grow older and how, even when you try not to, the past can irretrievably shape your future.

The Last Time We Were Us is a story with a hint of mystery, romance, and a healthy dose of feminism. Cannot recommend it highly enough.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jenn Bennett, The Game of Love and Death by Martha A. Brockenbrough, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, The Weight of Feathers by Anne-Marie McLemore, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, Bone Gap by Laura Ruby, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Insomniacs by Marit Weisenberg, Places No One Knows by Brenna Yovanoff

You can also check out my interview with Leah Konen about the book.

Author Interview: Leah Konen on The Last Time We Were Us

Leah Konen auhor photoIf I could pick one book that came out in 2016 that I wanted everyone to read, it might be The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen. I knew Konen would be an author to watch after reading her debut, The After Girls. The Last Time We Were Us is Konen’s second novel and makes good on that promise. It’s a smart, sexy story about first love, expectations, memories, and a whole lot more. Today Leah is here to talk a bit about her writing and the book.

Miss Print (MP): Can you tell me a bit about your path as a writer? How did you get to this point?

Leah Konen (LK): I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, but I only really started to take it seriously in college, where I took a YA writing class that got me started on my first novel, which I finished after moving to New York. Once I was in NYC, I met so many other writers that I started to see it not just as a wild dream but as something that could maybe happen one day—I’ve never looked back!

MP: What was the inspiration for The Last Time We Were Us?

LK: I was sitting at my mom’s house in North Carolina and remembering a lot of childhood games my friends and I used to play. The wheels started turning, and I decided I wanted to write a story about two childhood friends who were torn apart but find a way to come together again. I was also very inspired by my college days in North Carolina. While it was a wonderful place in many ways, there were certain elements of southern and frat culture, especially around gender roles, that made me uncomfortable as I got older. I wanted to explore both the wonderful and problematic elements of the South.

MP: Liz has to make a lot of hard choices in this story (friendship or popularity, Jason or Innis to name two). Did you always know what decisions Liz would ultimately make? How much of the plot did you know when you first began working on this novel?

LK: I knew a lot! It’s the only time that the whole plot has come to me in a flash. Liz wasn’t the easiest character to write, as I often found myself disagreeing with some of her choices and motivations, but watching her grow and take ownership of her life and her role in society was really awesome for me as a writer.

MP: Liz is a really interesting narrator. She knows who she is and she tries to stay true to what she believes throughout the novel. But she also is often swayed by the expectations of her friends and family. How did you balance Liz’s certainty in some areas of her life with the uncertainty she begins to feel in other areas with Jason’s return?

LK: I’m in my thirties, and I’m not perfect, and I certainly wasn’t perfect in high school. I wanted to explore a girl who had a strong moral compass but didn’t always know how to go about following it. I wanted to watch someone make mistakes and still be able to find some redemption and peace in the end. I think many of us are constantly balancing right and wrong, our own desires and those of others, so I thought it only natural that Liz would, as well.

MP: This story has a few moving parts including romance, mystery, and a really surprising twist at the end. As a writer how did you go about pacing this story and balancing the different elements of the narrative?

LK: Scrivener (the app) and Save the Cat (the screenwriting book). IMHO, two of the most important tools for any writer.

MP: I was really happy with the way feminism played into this story and how sex positive it is. Did you always know that these would themes would be a part of the story and of Liz’s character?

LK: Absolutely! While I don’t believe YA should be steeped in heavy moral lessons, I do think it should at least put some good in the world. Feminism is very important to me, and so it’s important that any book I write be heavy on the girl power, while being realistic about the unique issues girls and women face.

MP: Were any locations in The Last Time We Were Us inspired by real locations you have visited?

LK: Bonneville is an amalgamation of different places I experienced in North Carolina, as well as one very gorgeous park I came across while biking in San Francisco. Hint hint: it’s the place that Liz and Jason used to bike to as kids.

MP: When Liz begins to reminisce about her childhood friendship with Jason, she digs some old photographs out of a hidden memory box. Did you ever have a similar box of mementos? What’s one childhood photograph (or just memory) that you find yourself returning to fondly now that you are older?

LK: I definitely have that box. My favorite is my sister and I, about 3 and 7 years old, sitting in matching pint-sized rocking chairs, my sister holding a fake microphone and belting her heart out.

MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?

LK: Yes. It’s called The Romantics, and it follows a lovesick guy, Gael, on his misadventures as he tries to find the girl for him. Also, it’s narrated by Love, herself. It comes out November 1, but you can pre-order it here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01IDGS3FQ/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1!

MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?

LK: Yes. Just keep on writing, and keep on reading. Don’t read only in your genre of choice—instead, read everything you can get your hands on. I believe that reading voraciously is the best thing you can possibly do to improve your writing.

Thanks again to Leah for this fantastic interview.

You can see more about Leah and her books on her website.

You can also check out my review of The Last Time We Were Us.

The After Girls: A Review

The After Girls by Leah KonenElla, Astrid and Sydney thought they would have the perfect summer between high school and college. Until Astrid kills herself in the isolated cabin they’ve used as a hideaway for years.

In the wake of Astrid’s suicide, Ella and Sydney are left with grief, confusion and questions. How could Astrid do this to herself? How could she leave them behind? How could Ella and Sydney have missed the warning signs?

While Ella is desperate to find answers, some kind of suicide note or explanation, Sydney does everything she can to try to numb herself. Together, Ella and Sydney will follow the pieces of Astrid’s life–and even a chilling message from Astrid herself–to find out the truth about Astrid’s suicide and whether she might be trying to reach them from the afterlife in The After Girls (2013) by Leah Konen.

The After Girls is Konen’s first novel.

The After Girls is a smart, thoughtful novel with an unflinching focus on grieving. Konen’s treatment of both characters is balanced and honest as Ella and Sydney work through their grief in different ways.

With elements of mystery, suspense and even romance for Ella, The After Girls is a subtle story with evocative landscapes and compelling characters. With books like I Was Here and All the Bright Places getting so much buzz, this back list title is well worth reading

Possible Pairings: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Love by Katie Cotugno, I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca A. Serle

*A review copy of this title was acquired from the publisher at BEA 2013*