Book Review | Be Mindful and Stress Less: 50 Ways to Deal with Your (Crazy) Life by Gina Biegel

be mindfull stress less cover This little book is packed full of tips and tactics aimed at a YA audience for being mindful and stressing less. The book’s tips are certainly helpful and it offers an accessible introduction to mindfulness that would be applicable to readers of any age. While the chapters are very short, making the book easy to pick up or put down, as a whole it may be a bit more of an undertaking for a teen than the author intended. Lots of acronyms are included that list out processes for dealing with certain situations, but it could be hard to keep them all straight. Likely, this book could be used as a type of handbook to be referenced in various stressful situations. A helpful appendix also spells out a list of which processes may be helpful to individuals “actively working with a disability” (p.199). Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

For further reading, adults dealing with or overcoming trauma may appreciate the insights offered in To Lose the Madness : Field Notes on Trauma, Loss and Radical Authenticity by L.M. Browning (2018).

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Book Review | Damselfly by Chandra Prasad

damselfly cover.jpgReminiscent of Lord of the Flies, Prasad’s latest YA novel details the events of teens surviving a plane crash on a deserted island in the Pacific Ocean. The high school fencing teams from an elite East Coast boarding school were in route to a competition in Japan when their private jet went down. As they learn to utilize the island’s resources to survive, they are simultaneously threatened by discord among themselves and an unknown enemy who wants them gone on threat of death.

Damselfly is an easy text to jump into. The story proceeds at a good clip, focusing mainly on the plot. While the cast of characters is not very likable, they aren’t off-putting enough to discourage the reader. Prasad includes social issues such as racism, eating disorders, mental health and environmentalism, perhaps making this text more relevant today than Golding’s classic. It could serve as a quick read for an adult seeking adventure, or be used in a teen book group to generate discussion. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an uncorrected proof of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

Book Review | The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak

impossible fortress cover.jpgReturn to the 1980’s for some of the first consumer computers to hit the market. The Impossible Fortress introduces a few teens not yet old enough to buy the Vanna White Playboy. As the boys try to figure out their best shot for getting a copy, Billy begins programming a computer game with Mary to submit in competition. Billy develops feelings for Mary, which causes a ripple effect influencing the ragtag heist.

A fast paced story with ample chapter breaks, this book can be read quickly. While it reads like a YA novel with emphasis on action and plot, many references to 1980’s things will be lost on someone born after 1980. For adults, the characters may not be relatable and their repeated stupid choices will be very frustrating. Rekulak incorporates some topics that make the book unique, but they aren’t fully played out. In summary, the book is a quick read with a decent story, but it’s value is decreased by the author’s seeming lack of choice between an adult novel and a YA piece. Recommended for outcast teens, those interested in 1980’s computer programming, and video game geeks. Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Best & Worst of the 46 Books I read in 2017

During 2017 I expanded my reading horizons to include many books I wouldn’t normally choose. The selection contained mostly novels, a few memoirs, other various non-fiction works, an art book and a screenplay. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books based on my overall enjoyment of the texts. Most, but not all of the books I read during 2017 were released in 2017. The overall selection was heavily influenced by copies I received freely from publishers through Goodreads giveaways. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My six favorite books:

Taduno’s Song – An African musician must find his lost voice in order to rescue his lover from a corrupt government.

The Clairvoyants– A Cornell student who sees spirits of the deceased unravels the mystery surrounding a missing persons case.

Songs of the Baka* – A writer and photographer share their travels to several uncommon destinations.

Spaceman of Bohemia* – A man on a solo mission in space is abandoned by his wife and encounters a strange creature aboard his ship.

Shelter in Place – A bipolar man falls in love with a woman who comes and goes after his mother is imprisoned for killing a man with a hammer.

The Fortunate Ones* – A painting stolen from a Jewish home by the Nazis during World War II resurfaces in Los Angeles decades later and brings together an unlikely pair of women.

After those six, my next nine top picks:

Under the Harrow – A suspense thriller involving the murder of a woman in England.

The One Eyed Man – After becoming a widower, a man lets his true self shine through resulting in his own reality TV show.

Brussels Noir* – Short stories, some bizarre, that take place in Brussels.

Soldier Boy* – Based on a true story, this YA book relays the stories of two boy soldiers in the Ugandan civil war.

Men without Women – Short stories from Japan focused on men without women.

Oola* – Thought-provoking story of boy meets girl and their hermetic existence.

Twig* – A woman coming of age in 1950’s America deals with life’s struggles.

A Fortune Foretold* – A woman coming of age in 1950’s Sweden deals with life’s struggles.

Sourdough – A tech industry workaholic is transformed into a breadmaker after being gifted a unique sourdough starter.

Four books that should have been better:

The King is Always Above the People* – Short stories involving Latinx characters.

O Glorious City : A Love Letter to San Francisco – A collection art commissioned for the anniversary of San Francisco’s City Hall.

A Loving, Faithful Animal* – A girl in Australia comes of age in a broken home.

As Red as Blood* – Scandinavian teens find a bloody bag of money.

Four books I feel would be better to pass on:

We’ll Sleep When We’re Old* – An Italian media mogul plots and schemes to hype an upcoming film failure.

Malafemmena – Short stories focusing on female protagonists in untraditional situations.

Schadenfreude, A Love Story* – A memoir by a German major about her time abroad and PhD struggles.

A Life of Adventure and Delight* – Short stories of everyday life involving characters of Indian descent.

All titles appear below in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links above and below are to book reviews I’ve written. Carey, Currie, Maksik, Murakami and Sloan are the only authors I’ve read before this year. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you’ve particularly enjoyed.

So Much I Want to Tell You* – Anna Akana
The King is Always Above the People* – Daniel Alarcón
The Leaf Reader* – Emily Arsenault
Taduno’s Song – Odafe Atogun
Mexico Stories* – Josh Barkan
Under the Harrow – Flynn Berry
The Clairvoyants*- Karen Brown
Wrong about Japan – Peter Carey
The Hanging Girl*- Eileen Cook
We’ll Sleep When We’re Old* – Pino Corrias
Book of Moon* – George Crowder
The One Eyed Man – Ron Currie Jr.
The Slave* – Anand Dilvar
Brussels Noir* – Michael Dufranne
Malafemmena – Louisa Ermelino
The Sunlight Pilgrims* – Jenni Fagan
O Glorious City : A Love Letter to San Francisco – Jeremy Fish
Soldier Boy* – Keely Hutton
Songs of the Baka* – Dennis James
Spaceman of Bohemia* – Jaroslav Kalfar
White Fur* – Jardine Libaire
Bluebird, Bluebird* – Attica Locke
The Infinite* – Nicholas Mainieri
Shelter in Place – Alexander Maksik

The Beauty of the Fall* – Rich MarcelloBright, Precious Days* – Jay McInerney
Leopard at the Door* – Jennifer McVeigh
Men without Women – Haruki Murakami
Wolf Haven* – Annie Marie Musselman & Brenda Peterson
The Gun – Fuminori Nakamura
Oola* – Brittany Newell
Twig* – Madelon Phillips
A Fortune Foretold* – Agneta Pleijel
Rebels like Us* – Liz Reinhardt
A Loving, Faithful Animal* – Josephine Rowe
Fantastic Beasts Original Screen Play* – J.K. Rowling
Schadenfreude, A Love Story* – Rebecca Schuman
Lola* – Melissa Scrivner Love
A Life of Happiness and Delight* – Akhil Sharma
As Red as Blood* – Salla Simukka
Sourdough – Robin Sloan
Our Own Private Universe* – Robin Talley
A French Wedding* – Hannah Tunnicliffe
The Fortunate Ones* – Ellen Umansky
Fraulein M.* – Caroline Woods

*These titles were given to me through Goodreads Giveaways in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review | Soldier Boy by Keely Hutton

soldier boy coverBased on a true story, Soldier Boy recounts Ricky’s initiation into Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Ricky is just a child when his village is stormed and he and his brother are forced to watch as his parents and sisters are burned to death in their family hut. Taken captive, the two boys become model soldiers for the LRA as they are shaped into valuable resources with prominent positions fighting government troops and raiding other villages. Simultaneously told is the story of boy soldier Samuel, recovering from traumatic leg injury many years later in the Friends of Orphans compound.

Hutton has crafted a very successful novel in Soldier Boy. This YA book deals with a very heavy topic and breaks it down into digestible chunks for younger readers. The terror and violence suffered by the Ugandans comes across clearly in this tastefully written account. The text carries along at a good clip with clean writing and visualizable descriptions. This book would be a solid supplement to a history class dealing with Uganda or an English class looking to broaden world views and understanding. Check out this highly recommended read from a library near you.

I received an advance reader’s edition of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating in the giveaway.

Book Review | Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley

Aki and Christa are high schoolers who fall in like at first sight when their church groups join up in a small town to help with the construction of a new church. The girls sneak off in the evenings to make out with each other and deal with trying to hide their relationship by day. The book mainly addresses a teen coming to terms with her (bi)sexuality while on a summer youth group trip to Mexico, but also includes broader social issues within the context.

Our Own Private Universe keeps a decent pace and tells a story that holds the reader’s intrest. Some sections, especially that narrator’s internal monologue, are a bit repetitive. As a YA novel, it’s successful in its inclusion of diversity, budding sexuality, and melodrama. Adult readers may be put off by all of the characters lying to each other or the narrator’s tendency to blow things out of proportion. The book could serve as a good introduction to teens trying to orient themselves on the LGBTQIA spectrum. Check it out from a library near you.

I received a copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

Book Review | The Hanging Girl by Eileen Cook

hanging girl cover.jpgDuring Skye’s senior year of high school, a fellow classmate is kidnapped. After popular Paige goes missing, no one suspects tarot card reader Skye could be involved, which makes her the perfect choice of accomplice. Skye’s role is to feed tips to the police under the guise that she’s having visions about the crime. Problems arise when Paige doesn’t stick to their plans and Skye realizes she is in over her head.

As a young adult suspense mystery, The Hanging Girl is successful. The story is easy to follow and has enough plot twists to keep the reader guessing until the very end. Chapter breaks are frequent enough and the book’s length is appropriate. That said, the characters are difficult, in that they are rather unlikable, and the narrator is self-deprecating. Similes are overused and the writing style, at times, is a challenge. Readers who enjoy a book for its story that can overlook the stylistic annoyances will have a winner here. Check it out from a library near you!

I received an advance reading copy of this book as a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Thanks to the author/publisher for participating.

*Fans of The Hanging Girl, may be interested in The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault (2017).