Friday, October 30, 2020

Freeform Friday: Ghost Boys - Jewell Parker Rhodes

Summary: Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions. (synopsis and image from

My ReviewI knew this book was going to be hard.

Not in terms of reading, as it was a very quick, easy read.

But not easy to digest.

The strongest theme in this story is that the living must make changes.  The dead cannot do anything but inspire from beyond the grave.  It is up to those of us still here to do what is right.

Jerome's voice is so strong.  The clipped way he narrates, and the short chapters, carry the story along in a fast-paced way through both his life and his death (and I like how the story switches back and forth between the two in a non-linear fashion).  The confused, disillusioned way he drifts from scenario to scenario gave me the feeling of being dead, being a ghost and being helpless and watching everything go on around you.  It was unnerving and sad.

He is able to see life carrying on.  Able to see all sides of the story.  Able to meet a living white girl who can see him, and who is struggling with her father's actions, trying to find her voice to make change so that it doesn't happen again.  Jerome gets to see his friend Carlos taking care of his family in the aftermath, the caring, compassionate deeds he does that weaves him in as a member to help them heal.  Jerome meets Emmett Till, the black boy brutally murdered in the 50s, who walks Jerome through his purpose of being a ghost boy, of being that emblem of remembrance for those of us still living.  There are so many ghost boys and girls.  

Only the living can make a difference.

It doesn't matter how you make that difference.  It just matters that you are working to make one.  

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Deals with the death of the main character, and how he was shot by a policeman.  Talks about the horrible death of Emmett Till.  Prior to his death, Jerome was badly bullied, sees drug dealers on his way to school, and at night worries when he hears gunshots outside.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

A Familius Trio (Including The Runaway Shirt, Florence and Her Fantastic Family Tree, and No Matter What: A Foster Care Tale)

I was recently introduced to Familius Publishing -- a company whose mission is to "help families be happy by creating beautiful books that teach, inspire, and bring families together."  I mean, how can you not fall in love with that mission, am I right?  They sent me a few books to get a feel for their company, and I thought I'd review a few of them here, including The Runaway Shirt, Florence and Her Fantastic Family Tree, and No Matter What: A Foster Care Tale.   All books were given to me for free in exchange for an honest review and none of our links are affiliate links.

The Runaway Shirt - Kathy MacMillan & Julia Castaño (Illus.)

Summary: Laundry is a chore, but when a child climbs in the basket, everything becomes a game.  Follow along as this mother takes a break from folding clothes ot join her child in the delightful laghter of imagination.  In The Runaway Shirt housework and pretend play come together to transport readers to a kid's world of wonder and excitement.  Each page of charming illustration is a work in joy nd mirth.  Who knew folding laundry could be so fun?

My Review:  The Runaway Shirt tells the story of a young boy and his mother who engage in imaginative play while she is folding the laundry.  Setting aside her task, the mother playfully pretends to "fold" the shirt her son  has pilfered from the laundry and is currently wearing.  He is thrilled and giggles ensue, with the "shirt" resisting all attempts to be folded. 

The first thing I noticed about The Runaway Shirt was its beautiful cover art and crisp, colorful illustrations, that really draw the eye.  The story itself is charming, whimsical, and just a little bit silly, which is sure to delight younger readers.  I also loved the gentle reminder that sometimes chore time can be set aside for quality time.  I would recommend The Runaway Shirt to anyone with preschool age kiddos in search of a good bedtime or anytime story.   

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: All clear.


Florence and Her Fantastic Family Tree - Judy Gilliam & Laura Addari (Illus)

Summary:  Florence and Her Fantastic Family Tree explores the idea of what it means to have a big, messy, complicated, and remarkable family.  As a young girl tries to complete her family tree assignment for school, she comes to appreciate her family and all its branches.  With adorable drawings and the succinct words of a child, you cna't help but love your own family tree, no matter how large or small, simple or chaotic.

My Review: When Florence's teacher asks her to create a family tree to display in the classroom she's not quite sure what to do.  You see, Florence's family tree has a lot of extra branches and she is more than a little worried.  What her teacher gets confused?  Or it won't fit on the wall.  What if she has to explain it or people don't believe her?  

In Florence and Her Fantastic Family Tree, Florence explains how her family tree might not look like everyone else.  She has a mom and a dad like most of her classmates, and a little brother, Fred, but she also has a several step-parents, step-siblings, adopted siblings, and half-siblings to boot.  Florence decides to complete the assignment and display her entire family tree for the whole class to see.  In her words, "with all the parts -- stems, branches, leaves, trunk, berries, and nuts. It might not be simple and might not be easy to describe, but these are my people...but you know what the best part is? That's me, right in the middle of this great, big, loud, colorful, fun, crazy, family that I call mine."  

My one criticism is that the book begins rather abruptly, without really introducing the main character.  I actually flipped the pages a bit to make sure I hadn't missed one.   That aside, Florence and Her Fantastic Family Tree easy to read with an engaging font, and is another one of those books (like this one) that I am so glad exists. It addresses a specific need for young children from homes and families that feel less than "traditional" to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion.  I love that Florence doesn't "come to appreciate" her unique family; she already appreciates them. Now, she learns how to share their wild and crazy branchiness with the world. 

My Rating : 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Florence briefly mentions her parents breaking up, her parents' remarriages, and her father's later divorces.


No Matter What: A Foster Care Tale - Josh Shipp with David Tieche & Yuliya Pankratova (Illus.)

Summary:  Josh was a squirrel without a family.  Between the pelicans, the leopards, the otters, the snakes, and many more, no one seemed to want a squirrel like him.  Josh didn't want a family, either.  He did everything he could to scare those families away first, but the elephants weren't like other families.  The elephants were very large and very patient, and they wanted Josh to be part of their family today, tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow.  When Josh takes his plans a little too far and gets into a sticky situation, will Josh finally be convinced that his family is his?

From award-winning motivational speaker and bestselling author Josh Shipp comes a mostly autobiographical tale about finding home.  With hilarious illustrations anda heartwarming message, No Matter What: A Foster Care Tale is sure to have your own family in peals of laughter and holding each other tight.

My Review:  No Matter What: A Foster Care Tale follows Josh the Squirrel and Grace the Heron in their search for Josh's forever home. At first, Josh is placed with several families that aren't the right fit. The young squirrel is so convinced that no one will want him, he decides to push everyone away with his behavior and pushes back, hoping they will crack.  Josh's antics create quite an uproar in the animal kingdom until he finally lands with the Elephant family. He tries his darndest to get them to crack, but even when his plans go awry, the Elephant family reassure him with a hopeful, encouraging message: No matter what you do, we love you.  And we're not going anywhere.

Isn't that message just the best?! Now, I thought this book was pretty special, but I don't really have any experience with the foster care system or how a foster care family might receive this message, so I appealed to a good friend of mine who has adopted three children from the foster care system.  Her response to this book?  OMGosh this is fabulous!!!!!...This book forces the reader to see the pain of the child and their defense mechanisms/coping skills from abandonment, and not focus on the "bad behavior" which pain is spoken through.  For isn't to be welcomed and loved what we all want?  No matter what..."  There you have it folks.  Foster-parent approved.  It doesn't get much better than that.

My Rating: 4.25 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Some discussion of foster care and the struggle to find a place to belong.


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Monday, October 26, 2020

Shadow Divers - Robert Kurson

Summary: In the tradition of Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm comes a true tale of riveting adventure in which two weekend scuba divers risk everything to solve a great historical mystery–and make history themselves.

For John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, deep wreck diving was more than a sport. Testing themselves against treacherous currents, braving depths that induced hallucinatory effects, navigating through wreckage as perilous as a minefield, they pushed themselves to their limits and beyond, brushing against death more than once in the rusting hulks of sunken ships.

But in the fall of 1991, not even these courageous divers were prepared for what they found 230 feet below the surface, in the frigid Atlantic waters sixty miles off the coast of New Jersey: a World War II German U-boat, its ruined interior a macabre wasteland of twisted metal, tangled wires, and human bones–all buried under decades of accumulated sediment.

No identifying marks were visible on the submarine or the few artifacts brought to the surface. No historian, expert, or government had a clue as to which U-boat the men had found. In fact, the official records all agreed that there simply could not be a sunken U-boat and crew at that location.

Over the next six years, an elite team of divers embarked on a quest to solve the mystery. Some of them would not live to see its end. Chatterton and Kohler, at first bitter rivals, would be drawn into a friendship that deepened to an almost mystical sense of brotherhood with each other and with the drowned U-boat sailors–former enemies of their country. As the men’s marriages frayed under the pressure of a shared obsession, their dives grew more daring, and each realized that he was hunting more than the identities of a lost U-boat and its nameless crew.

Author Robert Kurson’s account of this quest is at once thrilling and emotionally complex, and it is written with a vivid sense of what divers actually experience when they meet the dangers of the ocean’s underworld. The story of Shadow Divers often seems too amazing to be true, but it all happened, two hundred thirty feet down, in the deep blue sea.
  (Summary from - Image from

My Review: I am—straight up—a rabbit-hole type of person. I see something on TV or read a tidbit something interesting and all of a sudden I’m like a mad woman obsessed. In this case, my husband and I were binge-watching “The Curse of Oak Island” on Hulu and the History Channel, and the seekers employed some divers to dive down to see if they could see some treasure. Long story short, they went through lots of divers before they could find one who could actually A) agree to it and B) do it. That diver was John Chatterton, and I could tell he was seriously legit just by the way he talked and discussed the dive and all of a sudden I was like a woman obsessed. I listened to several podcasts where he was interviewed, read his blog, tried to find a place where I could watch his old History Channel show “Deep Sea Detectives” (I wasn’t successful), and finally read this book Shadow Divers. Friends, I wasn’t disappointed.

It is at this point that I have to say that I listened to the audiobook, which is not something I normally do. I am a devoted podcast listener, and I have tons of podcasts that I listen to, so I don’t always want to use my listening time for audiobooks. However, I put this book on hold at my library and it was taking forever (still haven’t gotten it) and I just couldn’t wait any longer. My obsession was gnawing at my soul. It was read by Michael Prichard, and his old timey radio-style voice really added to the ambience of this WWII U-boat mystery book. It was a long book, in my short experience of audiobooks (15 hours), and yet I finished it in less than a week. Like I said #womanobsessed.

There are so many things I loved about this book. First off, it is really well written. It is gripping, fast-paced, and super interesting. I knew nothing about diving, and I really don’t have any interest in learning to dive (not even in a beautiful tropical place, which is very different from what these divers do). However, learning about the technology and the bravery and intricacies of deep sea wreck diving was fascinating. It was a whole new world and I just can’t believe how exciting it was. Kurson also does a great job of introducing and connecting us with each of the divers. Their backgrounds were fascinating as well, and getting to know them and their experiences was a highlight of the book. Another thing I loved is that the U-boat mystery was fascinating. I guess I just had no idea how difficult it is to find shipwrecks and identify them, let alone search through them and find artifacts. Following along with Chatterton and Kohler as they dove and tried to find out about this ship was so exciting. It was treacherous and intense and there were many times when I could feel the intensity of the situation, even though I was just listening to it.

If you are in to true adventure stories, especially ones with dangerous and treacherous circumstances (like climbing Everest or any number of dangerous outdoor endeavors), I highly recommend this book. I very much enjoyed it. It’s an older book, and yet it has impeccable ratings on Goodreads (which is hard to maintain when so many people have read it and rated it). I’m hoping that since it’s older it’s something that isn’t necessarily on your radar. I really enjoyed it, and I will be reading everything else that they have written as well.

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is quite a bit of language and some bawdy sea-faring humor. There is also a man who is a serious alcoholic and this could be triggering for some readers. 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Freeform Friday: The Art for Joy's Sake Journal PLUS Watercolor Cards - Kristy Rice

Not long ago, I reviewed a book on how to watercolor and sort of caught 'the bug.'  Not a super-talented bug, mind you; I'm new to the medium. More of a curious, I'd-like-to-learn-more bug. So, when The Art for Joy's Sake Journal and a set of watercolor cards came my way, I was excited to test my newly acquired skills.  The experience of using them was super cool and perfect for Freeform Friday!  

First, The Art forJoy's Sake journal...

Summary: These beautiful pages invite you to pick up your brush and grow.  Kristy Rice's joy-focused approach to watercolor art has won the hearts of fans worldwide, and with this journal Rice offers ways for all levels of painters to make "art for joy's sake" and simultaneously paint a personal keepsake or add beauty to your inspiration wall.  

[The Art for Joy's Sake Journal] includes 9 illustrations ready to be water-colored on thick, textured paper, along-side full color, frameable reproductions of the same works painted by Kristy herself, demonstrating palette choices and brushwork.

Enrich your art with "prompt" ideas to inspire your painting's growth; pages with no-stress exercises for techniques; inspirational artwork and quotations; and even a few recipes for nourishing your body along with your spirit!  (Summary from back of book - Images from and - Journal given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review:  Have you ever found something that you truly loved - a hobby, a talent, or a side-gig - and then worked it so hard that the joy leaches out and you can't remember the reason you started doing it in the first place?  Me. Too.  The Art for Joy's Sake Journal asserts that the act of creation, and art in particular, can and should be a joyful experience.  Now, if you're reading this review and thinking, That's nice and all, but I don't DO journals, guess what?  I don't either and I still had a blast with this book. Perhaps, that is because it isn't a journal in the traditional sense of the word.  

The Art for Joy's Sake Journal has a few journaling prompts with space to write (or paint) your thoughts, but it is also filled with beautiful watercolors, painting tips, inspirational ideas, creative exercises, delicious recipes, reading recommendations, paintable designs, and so much more.  It is also next level gorgeous with a vibrant cover, thick, gilt-edged watercolor pages, a ribbon bookmark, and a stretch band to keep it all together.  I don't know how someone could look at it and not feel a spark of joy.  It 

For the purpose of this review, I decided to embrace to the experience and really dig in.  I read all the tips, stories, and quotes, journaled a bit (about my consuming fear of getting things 'wrong'), painted several of the ready-to-watercolor designs, completed some of the creative exercises, and even made the recipes! The author suggests pairing her recipes with a couple of friends for a painting party, but since we are deep in the heart of COVID right now I opted for a party of one. ME. I cooked, painted, devoured, and didn't have to share a single bite. It was pretty great.

Some might pick up this journal to reawaken their love of watercolors, to get lost in the art, or simply reconnect with their creativity and it would probably do all of those things.  For me, it was an exercise in letting go of my obsessive need to control every outcome.  It encouraged me to try new things, change my perspective, and embrace the unexpected.  In that regard, I found the creative exercises to be incredibly helpful in expanding my creative repertoire.  

One of the first exercises I did was about getting past the fear of taking the first step. It encouraged me to splatter random colors all over a blank page.  I am not a person who loves mess and unpredictability, so even this was a stretch, but I did it.  I even added a little message to my page: Make a mess.  It's okay.  And I think it's kind of perfect.  That exercise inspired me to go a little off book and do something that was (for me) pretty wild. Instead of painting the way I would normally paint (trying to mirror the artists style and color choice, I painted one of the ready-to-watercolor designs in all the 'wrong' colors.  GASP! I know, right?!  There were brown and blue flowers, plaid plants, violet tomatoes, and hot pink leaves everywhere.  The Mona Lisa it was not, but it was my own little breakthrough and it felt unbelievably liberating.  I also did another exercise that encouraged you to cover a page with circles and fill them with vibrant watercolors.  It was amazing how even though I have a fairly limited selection of colors, each circle manage blend in its own unique way.

The Art for Joy's Sake Journal contains several of the author's own watercolors that serve as both an example and inspiration for your own works.  With each piece the author talks about what types of watercolor she used (all sorts) and gives palette suggestions and tips to get motivated.  I was especially impressed by the page she did with Crayola watercolors.  That's right!  CRAYOLA!  Of course, I had to try it too and I was pleasantly surprised with the results (see below left).  It was nice to see that you don't always have to drop a ton of money to create beautiful art. 

I haven't finished all watercolors and exercises yet but, to be honest, I want to savor the rest of the experience, without forcing the moments to meet a review deadline. However, I would like to share a quote/tip from the book that really hit home for me:
You will get paint on your  hands.  Be okay with paint on your hands.  Own the mess; you can wash your hands later. It's difficult to make something fabulous if you're always worried about making a mess.  - Kristi Rice
Ultimately, The Art for Joy's Sake Journal is the artistic equivalent of learning find your why again.  The more I explored, stretched myself, and experienced all that this journal has to offer, the more I loved it.  If you're looking for a gift for the artist in your life, this one's a lock.  I would recommend it to anyone who needs a safe, creative space, artistic encouragement, or simply something fun to do in quarantine.  

My Rating: 5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Control freaks might balk at this carefree approach to artwork but (trust me, I am one) it it will do them good.  


Summary: These beautiful cards invite you to pick up your brush and release your own creativity and imagination.  Printed on high-quality, textured art paper, the flat cards with envelopes feature 12 different images form the Painterly Days and Cutting Garden watercoloring books and are easily frameable.  (Summary from back of box - Image from - Cards given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

 My Review:  I like to create things, but don't often find (or make) the time in my life to embrace that creativity. I enjoyed the opportunity to practice some of what I had previously learned about watercolor while painting Kathy Rice's watercolor cards.  

With thick paper and a variety of beautiful  designs, the cards are quite stunning and would make a wonderful gift for an artistically-minded friend, or for your own personal use.  Each card has a black-and-white paintable floral design that covers the back of the card and the margins of the front, with space left for a personal message. They were designed primarily for watercolor, but I imagine they could be colored with pencils, markers, or some other medium, if the artist were so inclined.

Though I am by no means a professional, I think I did passably well for someone with relatively limited experience in watercolors.  I do think I used a bit too much water sometimes, which caused the cards to warp slightly, but I chalk that up to my inexperience rather than a flaw in the cards.

Each card took several sit-down sessions for me to complete (because kids...and drying allowances) so these will be most definitely be reserved for special people and occasions. I am excited to paint and give away more of these cards as the opportunities arise. 

My Rating:  4 Stars

For the Sensitive...Painter?: All clear.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

World War II Posters - David Pollack

Summary: This is a visual survey of posters printed by the United States, the Allies, and the Axis, and offers an overview of the various categories of propaganda posters created in support of the war effort: recruiting, conservation, careless talk/anti-espionage, bond/fundraising, morale, and more.  With posters from all combatants, here is a look at propaganda used as a tool by all parties in the conflict and how similar themes crossed national borders. (Summary from book - Image from - Book given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review:  I am not an expert on World War II.  I know some of the basic history and I loved Band of Brothers, but I'm not an aficionado.  I did marry one, though, and his eyes lit up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree when he saw this book.  He's a man of few words, but they were:  That is a cool book!

World War II Posters is a curated collection of WWII wartime propaganda employed by both sides of the fight.  While it would be impossible for this book to contain all the WWII posters in existence, it is a massive compendium that covers many different aspects of the war, like recruitment, health and hygiene, fundraising efforts, production, espionage, and even those those facets less talked about, like women and minorities.

World War II Posters is a significant collection of visual history and I learned a great deal while perusing its pages.  Of course, I am familiar with a few iconic war posters -- namely, "Uncle Sam Wants You," (which originated in WWI) and Rosie the Riveter's "You Can Do It! -- but was not even remotely prepared for the rest.  I had no idea there were so many different organization, societies, and branches of, within, and outside of the military involved in the war effort.   Nor was I aware of the depth and breadth of the war-time propaganda machine during that time.

The propaganda used by the US, its Allies, and the Axis was all designed to motivate, persuade, and inform the public in an effort to advance the war effort.    It was a lot easier to see the psychology behind the narrative when I examined them collectively.  Taken altogether an in a historical context, it was fascinating to see how the posters, like modern-day advertisements, were designed to encourage or discourage certain behaviors and targeted different kinds of people by playing on their fears and desires.  I was surprised by how much the public was asked to sacrifice in order to supply the troops.  My favorite posters were the ones that encouraged civilians to grow gardens, learn to can, and conserve everyday items like scrap metal, rubber, tin, gas, tires, and waste fats in order to further the cause.

There were a few aspects of the book that I found irksome (but important).  When viewed through modern eyes, some of the posters perpetuated sexist or racist themes.  As the author states, "propaganda is a tool used by all sides" and each side of the war produced posters that depicted the other side (especially the Japanese and African Americans) in a grotesquely exaggerated and dehumanizing light.  It was also frustrating to see posters that encouraged women into the workforce, knowing that only a few years later they would be asked to step aside for the men coming home.  However infuriating, I believe that these kinds of posters were included because they showed the uglier side of wartime propaganda and leaving them out would have rendered the collection cursory and inaccurate.  In short, while I don't agree with the message of certain posters, they have unmistakable value when examined through a historical lens.

Ultimately, I think this book would make a wonderful conversation piece or coffee table book and a fantastic gift for the avid collector or your favorite WWII buff.  Personally, it served as a reminder of a time when unity, dedication, and sacrifice were more important to the community at large than ego and creature comforts, and I hope to carry that message with me.  World War II Posters has my wholehearted stamp of approval and I am thrilled to add it to my personal library.

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Likely fine for the adult reader.  A few Biblical swear words (like H*ll and G*d).  One poster shows three men showering al fresco, with one backside visible (meant to encourage cleanliness).  Some posters, though considered acceptable at the time, would likely be seen as sexist or racist through more modern eyes, including some with racist terminology (e.g. "J*ps").  A few VD posters talk about prophylactics and/or have mild innuendo.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre - Max Brooks

 Summary: The #1 bestselling author of World War Z takes on the Bigfoot legend with a tale that blurs the lines between human and beast--and asks what we are capable of in the face of the unimaginable.

As the ash and chaos from Mount Rainier's eruption swirled and finally settled, the story of the Greenloop massacre has passed unnoticed, unexamined . . . until now.

But the journals of resident Kate Holland, recovered from the town's bloody wreckage, capture a tale too harrowing--and too earth-shattering in its implications--to be forgotten.

In these pages, Max Brooks brings Kate's extraordinary account to light for the first time, faithfully reproducing her words alongside his own extensive investigations into the massacre and the legendary beasts behind it.

Kate's is a tale of unexpected strength and resilience, of humanity's defiance in the face of a terrible predator's gaze, and inevitably, of savagery and death.

Yet it is also far more than that.

Because if what Kate Holland saw in those days is real, then we must accept the impossible. We must accept that the creature known as Bigfoot walks among us--and that it is a beast of terrible strength and ferocity.

Part survival narrative, part bloody horror tale, part scientific journey into the boundaries between truth and fiction, this is a Bigfoot story as only Max Brooks could chronicle it--and like none you've ever read before. (Summary and pic from

My Review: A friend tipped me off that the way to read a Max Brooks book is to listen to it. So, despite all the things I’ve been saying to everyone all these years about how I don’t really listen to audio books, I listened to this as an audio book. Who am I even? I really enjoyed it, too, and I just recently reviewed Shadow Divers, which was also an audio book, so I’m basically questioning all my beliefs at this point. I’ve settled in to deciding that I can like both audio books and reading traditionally. Whew. It’s been soul-stretching. And also, I’m behind on some of my podcasts.

I purposely crammed this review into an October reviewing slot because I think Halloween and the Halloween season (which for me is several months long) deserves its own set of books to read. This one is not about ghosts or haunted houses, but a swarm of Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) terrorizing an isolated yuppie village is kind of Halloween-esque, right? If you’re into cryptids for Halloween, you should check this out. Maybe you should even listen to it! (Who AM I even!?)

I really enjoyed this audio book. I appreciated hearing the different voices, and the [minimal] sound effects. It really made for an immersive experience. Also, sometimes I like to be creeped out by things I listen to, especially when it’s crispy and autumn-y outside. There’s nothing like walking around in your house doing chores and being creeped out in a this-is-not-real-and-therefore-it’s awesome-way. It’s delightful!

I’ve read some feedback about this book that it’s slow. Perhaps if one were reading it it would feel that way. There is a lot of build-up and some minor points of action before the actual dramatic apex, but listening to it gave a creeping sense of foreboding that I enjoyed. Because it is written in journal style, with different entries from different people, I feel like this book really lent itself to being listened to (thanks for the rec, friend!) in that the action was well-paced and the descriptions vivid enough that it felt like we were RIGHTTHERE. Also, there is a certain amount of smugness that came from this isolated yuppie community, and Brooks has made it very easy to alternatively feel sorry for them and also feel like they got their comeuppance. There was a certain tongue in cheek way in which he described the people and the surroundings that let us in on the joke, but also made us empathize.

Did I feel like this was a realistic setting? Yeah, I guess I did. I’m always willing to suspend a little disbelief just because when you pick up a book about Bigfoot, it’s not like you’re not already maybe hoping or wanting to believe that it’s real enough to give you a little spine tingle. I do think that if there were to be an attack of Sasquatches, this scenario is as good as any (maybe better?).

If you’re into reading about Sasquatch, or post-apocalyptic stories that get a little supernatural, you should totally check this out. It was fast-paced and exciting. I enjoyed it a lot.

My Review: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language, violence, and some mild discussion of sex. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Someone to Watch Over - William Schreiber

Summary: Lennie Riley's life was destined for rock bottom the day her mother died delivering her forty-one years ago in the remote foothills of Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains.

At seventeen she flees town with a dangerous secret about her high school pregnancy that threatens to destroy her remaining family-a mine-worker father ill-equipped to raise her on his own and an ambitious older brother determined to escape their grinding life.

After two decades hiding from her past in the far reaches of Alaska, Lennie returns to Mosely, Tennessee, hoping to reconcile with her aging father and learn from him the fate of the now-grown child he forced her to give up as a teen. Neither of them ever knew they had been manipulated into the devastating decision by the town's powerful ruling family.

But before Lennie can reach her father, she's crushed to learn from her estranged brother, John, that their father has died.

All seems lost until Lennie discovers the rumored existence of guardakin angels in a distant corner of the Appalachian Mountains, through whom deceased parents can reach back from the beyond to help the children they've left behind.

Believing her deceased father can guide her to her child, Lennie sets out to find one of the angels. All the while, she battles her own self-doubt and the harsh realities hammered into her by her disbelieving brother, who accompanies her on a re-creation of a cherished childhood vacation in memory of their dad.

Meeting a sketchy Appalachian artist who claims to be the spiritual go-between she seeks, Lennie convinces herself she's come face-to-face with the divine, setting her on a collision course with her brother, who's convinced the folksy local is a con artist.

Forcing herself to trust in something she can't understand, Lennie crosses an unimaginable boundary and has fleeting encounters with her deceased parents, forcing her to confront what's real and what's nothing more than her heart's impossible longing, fueled by a desperate need to seek forgiveness from the child she feels she abandoned.

Finding answers hinges on her willingness to open up to life's biggest mystery, a leap of faith that will either end in redemption or devastation.
  (Summary and pic from

My Review: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The summary for this book is very thorough, so if you’re wondering what its like; I think the summary gives a pretty good idea. That being said, I really am not a huge fan of women’s fiction. I do read some women’s fiction, and there are definitely books in the genre that I enjoy, but I would say that the Hallmark movie-type is not really my jam. I would definitely categorize this book in the Hallmark movie-type genre.

I think the reason why people like Hallmark movies and books of that genre are probably the same reasons I don’t necessarily like them: I don’t like clichés. I think clichés are lame, and when they are used, I don’t feel a shared connection of this life or an understanding of a situation, I feel like it is just really uncreative and overused. Also, I don’t like too much cheese. If a situation is too cheesy or things work out too well (especially if they’re working out in an unrealistic and unauthentic way), it feels cheesy. I also don’t like colloquialisms. I do like regional talk and descriptions that give me a sense of place, because I love a good atmosphere, but I don’t like cliché colloquialisms where they feel false and so cliché that they can’t possibly be real. I find this happens in a lot of Southern literature. I’m not from the South, so I don’t feel like I can say this definitely, but I do know that everyone can’t be all the same saying the same things and drinking their sweet tea just the same and such. Right? Or am I wrong…??

So now for Someone to Watch Over. The story itself was fine. It was a little non-linear in that the perspective jumped back and forth between the two protagonists, but it wasn’t necessarily confusing, it just wasn’t always consistent. Most of the story was told from the perspective of Lennie, who is the sister of John, the other protagonist. She has lots of cliché problems that someone who has had a hard life might have, and John alternately does not. He is the typical opposite of his sister—makes a ton of money, is super uptight, has the perfect life from the outside. They both come from a troubled background and have lots of history and such, and they’ve had to survive in their alternating ways—one is successful on the outside but messed up on the inside, and one is messed up on the outside but a fighter. I feel like you can see where this is going. The writing is decent, and although the book wasn’t really my jam, I felt like the characters were written in a way that if this is your thing, you could really connect to them and would enjoy their familiarity. 

The point is—I feel like if you are in to this sort of thing, you’re going to love this book. It has all of the things that make this type of book jive—characters with a past, they’re flawed but endearing; “Guardakin angels” (which is a term I just can’t get over for its cheesiness) and people from the Other Side who are helping to guide the characters along in their life’s journey; love and loss; a tale of redemption. I know I sound cynical, but I can immediately think of a lot of people in my life right now who are really into this kind of thing. And really, maybe our world needs more of this kind of thing—more gentle stories with people who struggle but have help and are able to make it.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is some language and one description of rape that is not too graphic, although may be upsetting to some just because of the nature of the content. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Freeform Friday: The Parker Inheritance - Varian Johnson

Summary: The letter waits in a book, in a box, in an attic, in an old house in Lambert, South Carolina. It's waiting for Candice Miller.

When Candice finds the letter, she isn't sure she should read it. It's addressed to her grandmother, after all, who left Lambert in a cloud of shame. But the letter describes a young woman named Siobhan Washington. An injustice that happened decades ago. A mystery enfolding the letter-writer. And the fortune that awaits the person who solves the puzzle. Grandma tried and failed. But now Candice has another chance.

So with the help of Brandon Jones, the quiet boy across the street, she begins to decipher the clues in the letter. The challenge will lead them deep into Lambert's history, full of ugly deeds, forgotten heroes, and one great love; and deeper into their own families, with their own unspoken secrets. Can they find the fortune and fulfill the letter's promise before the summer ends? (summary and picture from

My Review: Okay, this book was such a fun adventure.  It was a history mystery, intertwining the present with the past.

I loved the friendship between Candice and Brandon.  The way Candice went from 'Ugh I don't want to play with this boy who is a year younger than me,' to defending him wholeheartedly.  And you can't help but love sweet, bookish Brandon and his kind, quiet drive to help Candice with her mystery.  Their friendship was real and authentic, and I loved watching them unravel the past together.  They felt like real kids, and they felt like real friends.

Candice's drive to prove that her grandmother wasn't crazy was also heartfelt.  She so desperately wants to prove that this woman she loved can be redeemed, that, yes, she made a mistake, but if Candice can solve this mystery, she can prove the woman was on the right track and clear her name.

The way that the history is twined into the story is also well done. Johnson weaves the stories of the characters Big Dub, Siobhan, Reggie, and others from the past cleverly throughout the book which kept me wanting to know more, wanting to solve the mystery.  It was also good to see history displayed the way it was, the race relations, the bigotry and prejudice that unfortunately are still very prevalent today, and which are seen in Candice, Brandon, and other character's experiences in the modern day.

While they work to unravel secrets of the past, Candice and Brandon are also dealing with secrets of their own, whether within their families, or within themselves.  Uncovering these secrets, along with those of the past, help them to grow into better people so that they can make a difference. 

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: Some minor language, plus there is an incident where a character is severely beaten (from the past), and there are some bully characters that pester Candice and Brandon. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Advice I Ignored: Stories and Wisdom from a Formerly Depressed Teen - Ruby Walker

Summary:  When Ruby Walker was fifteen, she went from a numb, silent, miserable high school drop out to a joyous loudmouth in one year flat.  Advice I Ignored answers the question everyone's been asking her since:  What happened?

In ten illustrated chapters, you'll learn how to:

-  Get out from under self-hatred
-  Gain a sense of free will.
-  Create your way through an existential crisis.
- Use exercise to beg your brain for endorphins.
-  Have an identity beyond "sad."
-  And more!

Full of embarrassing stories, honest advice, and fierce hope, Advice I Ignored is a self help book for people who hate help. And themselves.  (Summary from back of book - Image from - This book was given to me for free in exchange for an honest review)

My Review:  Why would a 40-year old woman who has never struggled with depression review a book on teenage depression?  The answer is simple: I have four daughters.  Right now, they seem to have the standard emotional ups-and-downs that come with having a uterus, but I wanted to be equipped to help them cope should they ever find themselves staring down the barrel of clinical or even situational depression.  And what better way to learn about overcoming teenage depression than from an actual teenager who overcame it!?!   I think that a depressed teen would be far more likely to read something written by another teen who has been there, done that than anything written by some stodgy old psychology professor.  Enter 17-year-old Ruby Walker...

After emerging from a cloud of anxiety and depression that enveloped much of her adolescence, Ruby Walker wrote Advice I Ignored with the hope that sharing her experience might help others find their way out of the gloom. Ruby's writing style is engaging, approachable, encouraging, and likely to appeal to a teen reader.  From an structural standpoint, I thought the book was well-organized. Each chapter contains an essay, a personal story, and step-by-step instructions on what to do when you have no idea what to do.  I liked that the sections were small enough to be read in bites, which was nice for this busy mama, but would be particularly helpful if the reader is struggling with depression and feeling overwhelmed. 
Over the course of the book, Ruby examines the various pieces of advice that are often thrown at people with depression, and elaborates on how they can be effectively employed.  To be perfectly honest, her wisdom belies her years and it kinda blew my mind a little.  She discusses specific strategies to reduce anxiety and combat negative self-talk, how to improve your brain chemistry, set realistic (achievable) goals, and how to be okay with just being yourself.  Ruby also talks about how stress and trauma manifest in different people different ways and gives practical tips for how to regain control of your life.  While this book is not and should not be a replacement for mental health counseling, I do feel like most of the advice given in the book is sound, helpful, and hopeful.  Read alongside counseling, this book might serve to reinforce some of the counseling advice a teen may have already received.

There was a lot to love about this book, but a few of my favorite Ruby-isms and lists were:  
  • There are ways of thinking that will make it better, and ways of thinking that will make it worse.
  • How to Gain a Sense of Free Will...and Finally Start Taking Showers Again.
  • Being a friend to yourself  means cutting yourself the same slack you already give to others.
  • Four Lies Your Trauma is Telling You and Why You Must Not Believe Them.  
  • When all is said and done, I'm the only person on this Earth who will be present in my life every moment until my very last breath.  Knowing myself deeply helps me connect to that life: through my relationships, my values, and through the face I choose to show the world.  And the more I know, the more I can be sure that face is true.
  • How to Acknowledge Failure, Find Solace, and Move On
  • Being a light means being kind when it isn't required, good when nobody can see, and refusing to accept suffering as the status quo.
Distilled down, Advice I Ignored offers important insight and a relevant message of hope: You are more than your depression.  Things will get better.  You are not alone.  And that is something I think we all need to hear. 

*An Important Note for Parents of (Younger) Teens*:  Ruby was sexually assaulted when she was six but repressed the experience.  In the book she discusses the moment when her childhood memories resurfaced (and she realized what had actually happened) and she writes about those memories in moderate detail.  Her experience was hard for me to read even though, sadly, it's not the first time I've heard a story like hers.  Some of the language in these moments is harsh, but I refuse to ask anyone to censor their trauma for my benefit.  The book also contains some more adult themes regarding self-harm and sexual preference.  Personally, I would encourage parents to read this book (or at least give it a good skim) before they pass it along to their younger teen.  Not only would it allow them to decide if the content is age-appropriate, but it would also give them tremendous insight into how their child might be feeling and what they, as parents, can do to help.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is some profanity (under 20 instances), some crude language and graphic subject matter (generally related to her assault), some discussion of the author's sexual preference (homosexual), self-harm, and the youthful self-exploration of her developing body (brief).  The author does provide a content warning (at the bottom of pg. 2) that indicates the chapters that discuss suicide/sexual trauma. (flashbacks that are italicized and can be easily skipped).    

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Only Good Indians - Stephen Graham Jones

Summary: Seamlessly blending classic horror and a dramatic narrative with sharp social commentary, The Only Good Indians follows four American Indian men after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives. Tracked by an entity bent on revenge, these childhood friends are helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I’m excited to be reviewing this book during the spooky season of the year. I am one of those people who has no problem reading scary/creepy/mysterious/horror books at any time of the year. I love them whenever! However, I do feel like I need to be planning ahead of what I’m going to read to get me in to the optimal Halloween mood. Murder? Ghosts? Paranormal activity? Zombies? Vampires? Scary houses? Creepy people? Lore? Cultural myths and creatures? The possibilities are endless and delightful! Today I bring you a review of a book that is fun because it covers several of the topics I listed above in a possible Halloween mishmash of delight.

The Only Good Indians starts out like any good crime book with a nod and some background to the situation that stirred all this madness up. I always like this, and often find myself reading this part again after I’ve read the whole book just to figure out all the things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. Once it launches in to the telling of the story, things seem normal enough, as far as a crime book goes. As the book goes on, however, it becomes very obvious that things are not what they seem—there is a crime, yes, but then there are more crimes of passion and murder, and all underlying it and fortifying it is Native American beliefs, stories, and characters who flesh out what is happening and why. It’s great! I always love stories based on culture, and Stephen Graham Jones does a great job of this.

One of the things I really appreciated about this book was the Native American perspective that the author brings. It’s one thing for an outsider to observe and state what they think about the Navajo and Blackfeet culture, and how it has evolved over the centuries, but completely another for one to comment on their own culture (the author is Blackfeet Native American). There are things about relationships between tribes, relationships to land, relationships to each other that we can’t fathom unless we are let in by one who is part of it, and I was grateful for Stephen Graham Jones doing this in such a way that I felt like I was able to get a glimpse into this very important Native culture. I thought the characters were interesting and added viewpoints (because of course not everyone feels the same, even about their own shared experiences and history), and I felt like this story did a great job of discussing a culture that is within two worlds—the historical and the recent.
Let’s talk about the horror of this book. Oh, there is definitely some! The entity that comes to haunt the characters because of a past event is fearsome and frightening! I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that I thought it was very scary, and its idea of retribution and why it existed was fascinating but also deliciously scary. This part of the story was confusing at times, just because I think I was messing up which characters were which. However, my confusion did not interfere with the horror of it all. That was loud and clear!

This is a great book if you are in to Native American culture and lore, or even if you’re just a crime or horror reader. It will be a great, creepy ready for your Halloween season!

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is violence, language, and referral to sex (although nothing graphic). I would say that if you read this genre, you’ll be fine with this book.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Freeform Friday: Betty Before X - Ilyasah Shabazz and Renee Watson

Summary: In Detroit, 1945, eleven-year-old Betty’s house doesn’t quite feel like home. She believes her mother loves her, but she can’t shake the feeling that her mother doesn’t want her. Church helps those worries fade, if only for a little while. The singing, the preaching, the speeches from guest activists like Paul Robeson and Thurgood Marshall stir African Americans in her community to stand up for their rights. Betty quickly finds confidence and purpose in volunteering for the Housewives League, an organization that supports black-owned businesses. Soon, the American civil rights icon we now know as Dr. Betty Shabazz is born. (summary and image from

My Review: I loved the gentle flow of this book, and I fell in love with Betty's poetic, childlike voice. The way she saw the world, the way she described things was so visual and felt so real and beautiful, it was like a painting.

This book takes the difficult emotions and struggles of the character, things like not knowing if her mother loves her or even wants her, to seeing a lynching in the town, to parting with dear friends over differences of opinions about how they should approach race relations.  These are all very hard and difficult things to take in, but somehow the prose manages to make it understandable.

And then there's Betty as a character, there were little things that just made her so rounded: the specific music she loved, her hobby of sewing, her pranks with her friend, sneaking out during church services to buy candy--these little things just made Betty such a real kid.  The other thing I loved about her was the way she would count her blessings.  Some nights she had so many things to be thankful for, and others she couldn't think of any and took a break.  But she always came back around to remembering how beautiful the world is, and how she was working to make a small difference.

I think the coolest thing about this whole book is that before picking it up, I never knew about Dr. Betty Shabbaz.  But learning more about her from both the story and the short history at the back of the book made me want to learn more--this was a pretty awesome woman.  I love books like these because they are especially cool for kids--to see that these great people were once little and childlike as they are, that they can see how others live life differently, but more importantly, see similarities.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Betty's mother isn't always the kindest, and sometimes beats her.  There is also a scene where there is a lynching, and dead bodies are hanging from a tree, and talk of a black boy murdered by police.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

I've Got It Covered: The Essential Guide to Closing the Life of Your Loved One - Dana G. Artzer

Summary: I've Got it Covered is an essential tool to help keep you organized now and prepare your loved ones for your final journey home.  It is beautifully designed, with simplicity in mind for both the person filling it out and the person using it.  It allows for quick and effortless location of important information when needed.  When completed and combined I've Got it Covered will supply you and your loved ones with ALL your important personal information such as: financial, social media, account numbers, policy numbers, last wishes, etc., as well as where all important legal documents are located.  When you are called to your eternal home, I've Got it Covered will gently guide your loved ones through the process of closing your life in a timely and efficient manner.  I've Got it Covered is full of valuable tips to save your family valuable time, considerable effort, and undue frustration during one of their most difficult times.  (Summary from - Image from publisher - This book was given to me for free in exchange for my honest review)

NOTE: Not long after I received this book and jotted down my thoughts, I sent it off to my 69-year old father to flip through and fill out.  I love him dearly and hope to have him around for a good long while, but he is the type to want to have his affairs in order and I knew he would appreciate it.  I won't be able to tell you how I've Got it Covered fared on the practical for another 30+ years (hopefully), so for now you get my 'thoughts' rather than a typical review.

My Thoughts: We never want to think about the death of a loved one. Our natural inclination is to push it to the back of our minds and pretend it will never happen. However, the reality is that sooner or later a loved one will pass on and remaining family must make arrangements, close accounts, file documents, and generally take responsibility for wrapping up their earthly affairs.

I've Got It Covered: The Essential Guide to Closing the Life of Your Loved One was created to make the transition process easier for those left behind. It can be filled out by a loved one concerned for their aging family member, a parent hoping to 'get things in order' in the event of their own passing, or anyone who simply wants to keep all their essential information in one place "just in case." 

Before I even opened the guide, I was impressed by the cover image, which felt peaceful and comforting. Structurally, the pages inside are well-organized and give plenty of space for the reader to fill-in the specific names, phone and account numbers, emails, and other essential information they want their loved ones to have. The guide is spiral-bound, which allows the guide to lay flat so it can be filled out without the pages flipping shut and smearing the ink.

In the first section, I've Got it Covered provides a series of valuable tips concerning what to do soon after a loved one's passing, when emotions are likely to be high and ordinarily common sense steps might be forgotten. These range from simple reminders, like cleaning out the fridge and properly disposing of medications, to more complex tasks such as how to obtain a death certificate and what entities require them, as well as how to notify financial institutions, contact service providers, and inform government agencies. Other pages provide prompts and leave space to fill out the necessary information. Here are some of the topics covered:

  • Who to call (outside of regular family)
  • Estate Planning 
  • Financial Accounts 
  • Retirement Accounts 
  • Sources of Income 
  • Safe Codes and Safety Deposit 
  • Insurance (Life, Medical, Home, Auto) 
  • Health Care Providers 
  • Personal Information 
  • Pet Instructions 
  • Home and Utilities 
  • Information Regarding Family, Friends, and Neighbors 
  • Credit Information and Debts 
  • Property (including land, vehicle, and firearms) 
  • Favorite Charities 
  • Memberships & Subscriptions 
  • Email, Social Media, Websites & Blogs 
  • Items loaned & items borrowed 
  • The location of hidden items 
  • And more...
Additionally, there are places to note revisions, tasks/completed tasks, make additional notes, and a place to include a final message. 

Personally, I believe that it would be incredibly helpful and comforting to have so much essential information at my fingertips when the time comes. The overall feel of I've Got it Covered is compassionate, rather than clinical, and I believe that it has the potential to provide a critical service and valuable peace of mind during an undoubtedly arduous and overwhelming task.

To take a closer look, you can check out their FB page.
To purchase, click here. (Not an affiliate link).

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Beautiful - Renée Ahdieh

The Beautiful has been on my to-read list since I finished two other books by the same author (The Wrath & the Dawn and The Rose & the Dagger).  

Summary: In 1872, New Orleans is a city ruled by the dead.  But to seventeen-year-old Celine Rousseau, New Orleans is a safe haven after she's forced to flee her life as a dressmaker in Paris.  Taken in by the sisters of the Ursuline convent in the middle of the carnival seasons, Celine is quickly enraptured by the vibrant city, from its music to its fancy soirées and even its danger. She becomes embroiled in the city's glitzy underworld, known as La Cour des Lions, after catching the eye of the group's enigmatic leader, Sébastian Saint Germain.

When the body of one of the girls from the convent is found in Sébastien's own lair -- the second dead girl to turn up in recent weeks-- Celine battles her attraction to Sébastien and suspicions about his guilt along with the shame of her own terrible secret.

After a third murder, New Orleans becomes gripped by the terror of a serial killer on the loose -- one who has now set Celine in his sights.  As the murderer stalks her, Celine finally takes matters into her own hands, only to find herself caught in the midst of an age-old feud between the darkest creatures of the night, where the price of forbidden love is her life.

At once sultry romance and a decadent, thrilling mystery, master storyteller Renée Ahdieh embarks on her most potent fantasy series yet.  (Summary from book cover - Image from

My Review:  In The Beautiful a young woman named Celine Rousseau endeavors to escape her past and the brutal truth she fears will be uncovered by seeking refuge in the infamous French Quarter of New Orleans. Not long after her arrival, Celine makes the acquaintance of Sébastian San Germain and several other members of La Cour de Leons, and is quickly mired in scandal as a series of vicious murders seem to follow in her wake.  Inexplicably drawn to San Germain and into the mystery surrounding the murders, Celine becomes increasingly desperate to determine her own fate, and save those she loves, regardless of the dangers she may face.

The Beautiful is an instantly captivating, marvelously set, and sumptuously descriptive tale. If there is one thing Ahdieh excels at, it is 'world' building. I have never been to New Orleans nor have I visited the French Quarter (in the late 1800s or at any other time), but now I feel as if I have, at the very least, stayed a night or two wandering the dark streets, glimpsing the parades, sampling the cuisine, and drinking in the atmosphere.  On a completely related noted, I am totally craving beignets.

When it comes to female characters, I definitely have a 'type' and the overwhelming characteristic that all my heroines seem to share is sheer stubbornness (with 'sass' running a close second).  Celine is many things, but, first and foremost, she is a woman who is learning to stand her ground even when it might be more advisable to tuck tail and run.  I just love that! I also enjoyed the chemistry and back and forth between Celine and Sébastian. Their relationship gets steamy at times without being wholly inappropriate for the genre, but it does toe the line a bit (or at the very least it toes mine), so be sure to check out the "sensitive reader" section below if you are worried.

Ahdieh does an excellent job of not tipping her hand and straying into plot predictability and I enjoyed the book's puzzling cast of secondary characters. The author hinted at many characters backstories just enough to pique my interest but left much of their tales untold and ripe for more 'page time' in the next book or, failing that, *fingers crossed* their own novella. The antagonist was infuriatingly hard to pin down most of the time and stayed firmly rooted in the shadows for much of the book, which only made me more curious and kept me reading at a frantic pace hoping for a little illumination.  As far as endings go, I will say that I did not expect things to play out the way they did but found that I rather liked the twists as they came and look forward to reading more of the story.

Ultimately, I thought The Beautiful was a romantic, entertaining, and atmospheric read.  I liked it slightly less than The Wrath & the Dawn (which I gave 4.5 stars) but I am still invested enough in the story and characters to pick up the next book in the series, The Damned.  It's in my TBR stack right now and I will let you know how it goes.

My Rating:  4 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Around 10-15 instances of profanity, including several F-bombs and two crude British references to female anatomy.  Some sensual situations and innuendo and one very nearly sexual situation (interrupted).  One of the female characters makes a few comments that indicate her romantic preference for other women.  Two incidental female characters are found kissing in a garden (brief, non-detailed).

Monday, October 5, 2020

Race to the Sun - Rebecca Roanhorse

Summary: Lately, seventh grader Nizhoni Begay has been able to detect monsters, like that man in the fancy suit who was in the bleachers at her basketball game. Turns out he's Mr. Charles, her dad's new boss at the oil and gas company, and he's alarmingly interested in Nizhoni and her brother, Mac, their Navajo heritage, and the legend of the Hero Twins. Nizhoni knows he's a threat, but her father won't believe her. (Summary and pic from

When Dad disappears the next day, leaving behind a message that says "Run!", the siblings and Nizhoni's best friend, Davery, are thrust into a rescue mission that can only be accomplished with the help of Diné Holy People, all disguised as quirky characters. Their aid will come at a price: the kids must pass a series of trials in which it seems like nature itself is out to kill them. If Nizhoni, Mac, and Davery can reach the House of the Sun, they will be outfitted with what they need to defeat the ancient monsters Mr. Charles has unleashed. But it will take more than weapons for Nizhoni to become the hero she was destined to be . . . (Summary and pic from

My Review: I am super excited to tell you about today’s book. I really enjoy learning about different cultures, and one of my fave things to learn about is the different Native American cultures in America. I appreciate any native cultures, really, and have enjoyed reading many different stories from many different native cultures. It’s truly an enlightening experience. This is a “Rick Riordan Presents” book, and Riordan wrote the foreword. Something he wrote really resonated with me, “For all kids, reading about other cultures’ mythologies is a way to expand their imagination and their empathy. There’s an old Czech proverb: Learn a new language, gain a new soul. Mythology is similar. The traditional sacred stories of every culture can offer us a new window onto the world—a new way of seeing and understanding.”

There are so many great things about this book. First of all, I think the main character, Nizhoni Begay, is super relatable. She has some difficult situations in her life along with the normal teenage dramas of everyday living, friends, school, etc. She is Navajo, and although proud of her heritage, is not super immersed in it. When it becomes apparent that she has more connection to her ancestors than she originally thought (i.e., she can detect monsters) it sends her on a quest that is not only challenging, it helps her understand her culture and her background. Roanhorse takes us along for the ride, and I loved reading about different cultural characters in the Navajo mythology. Although the story did not go into great depth into any of the different mythological characters she meets, it was a perfect segue to encourage kids to do a little digging and research to learn more about it.
Another great thing about this book—it’s funny. There are lots of parts that are sarcastic and amusing, and then some parts that are laugh out loud funny. There is also a sprinkling of scatological humor offerings to impress its intended audience. I love that Roanhorse was able to take a pretty serious topic with some Navajo words that are not easy to read for those who are unfamiliar, and make a fun and interesting story.

I read this book in just a few hours. The chapters (many whose titles are pretty funny, btw) are short and concise and make for a page-turning read. The story moves quickly, and the three main characters are easy to keep track of and understand what’s going on. The other chapters in the book are also interesting and fun, and although there were many of them, Roanhorse did a great job of making them memorable and simple enough that they didn’t interfere with the storyline, rather enhanced it.
I think there should be more books like this, and I think that more kids should read books like this. I love that this story celebrated Navajo culture, and had a Navajo protagonist who was awesome and also relatable. I think this type of representation is important, especially in today’s society where we are trying to teach children to not be color blind, but to be understanding and appreciate of others and their cultures and the variety and beauty that it brings to all of us.

I think this would be a great book for any JFic reader, especially one who enjoys adventure stories. If your kid (or you!) likes Rick Riordan, this book will totally be your jam and I highly recommend it.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book does have some situations where the character’s lives are in danger, but it isn’t overly violent. Also, the main character’s mom left them when she was young and that is painful in the book.    

Friday, October 2, 2020

Freeform Friday: Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World - Sabina Berman

Summary:  As intimate as it is profound, and as clear-eyed as it is warmhearted, Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World marks an extraordinary fiction debut by the award-winning Mexican playwright, journalist, and poet Sabin Berman.

Karen Nieto passed her earliest years as a feral child, left alone to wander the vast beach property near her family's failing tuna cannery.  But when her aunt Isabelle comes to Mexico to take over the family business, she discovers amid the squalor a real girl.  So begins a miraculous journey for autistic savant Karen, who finds freedom not only in the love and patient instruction of her aunt but eventually at the bottom of the ocean swimming among the creatures of the sea.  Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World takes us on a global journey that explores how we live, what we eat, and how our lives can defy even our own wildest expectations.

(Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  The first thing you should know is that I just got stung by a bee and had to take two Benadryl when my throat started to feel funny.  I shouldn't even be typing right now, but I am.  This could be a disaster.

Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World is  an undeniably well-written, character-driven story, filled with all sorts of moments that would make a seasoned writer drool.  As such, I probably should have enjoyed it more than I did.  I loved the premise and the main character but often didn't understand everything she was trying to say.  I got the sense that I was missing a deeper point, but didn't ever feel like expending the effort to dig it up. 

While I didn't always get things, there were parts of the story that I truly enjoyed, such as small moments of humor and tenderness, and themes about happiness and the value of both human and non-human life.  Additionally, the narrator's autism affects how she sees, interprets, and reacts to the world around her and offered a compelling glimpse of what it might be like to live on the spectrum.  As the main character grows, she learns how to better navigate her world (e.g. how to find comfort and how to communicate emotion through mimicry) and, as I read, her perspective helped me understand how to better relate with others on the spectrum.

I'm feeling a bit woozy right now, but I want to share a line from the book that I've had rolling around in my head a bit.  I feel like it illustrates both the writers skill and the depth (that I didn't always get):  To exist, which for ME is to unlearn to rush.  To relax the muscles of my heart and let it beat in its own time.  To be in the heat of the sun without thinking heat.  To eat when hunger is hungry and give in to the tiredness that arrives with nightfall and darkness covers things and things in the darkness can rest.  Just to be.  To be and to see.  And to see all that is as it is, while it is, today, because we don't know if it will be, tomorrow.

Despite its strengths, Me Who Dove into the Heart of the World did not fill the reading void I was hoping it would fill.  It was many things that a good book should be but I simply wasn't riveted to the page.  In the end, you get out what you put in.  I opted to snorkel on the surface of things rather than take a deep dive.  Perhaps, if I had, this review might have turned out differently.

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader: Plenty of swearing and some crude language.  I eventually stopped keeping track.  The narrator is an autistic savant with little to no 'filter'.  Occasionally she will say, write, or do things that seem far outside the norm of typical human behavior (such as taking off her shirt in front of a man to show him the scars on her back). Other times people will say things or try to do things to her that she doesn't really understand, but the reader will (like when that same man tried to touch her inappropriately).  The main character also describes sexual situations from a very literal, technical standpoint that can be both detailed and uncomfortable.  The R word is occasionally used to refer to her intelligence.


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