Turtles All the Way Down: Book Review

Title: Turtles All The Way Down

Author: John Green

Publisher: Dutton Books

Copyright Date: 2017

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“You remember your first love because they show you, prove to you, that you can love and be loved, that nothing in this world is deserved except for love, that love is both how you become a person, and why.” (Green 283)

Aza Holmes had enough trouble trying to get through high school and battling her own anxious thoughts without the drama of a missing billionaire to complicate things. Just before he was arrested, Russell Pickett went missing. He left behind a fortune, an exotic pet, and two sons (and he ranked their importance in that order.)

With a hundred thousand dollars on the line, Aza’s best friend, Daisy, is convinced that the two can solve the mystery. Daisy enlists the help of Aza because she used to be friends with the billionaire’s son, Davis, back when they spent their summers together at “Sad Camp.”

After reconnecting with Davis Pickett, Aza learns that wealth isn’t everything. Davis grew up fed by a silver spoon yet he experienced grief and loneliness akin to her own. As the two grow closer Davis begins to break down the wall of anxiety that Aza has built around herself. Together with her closest friends, Aza focused on Russell Pickett’s disappearance while also working through her internal demons.

Lately, some of my favorite books have been based on mental illness. When We Collided by Emery Lord and Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley were phenomenal books that dove into issues of anxiety, depression, and grief in an honest way. I felt like John Green also did a good job covering topics that teens wrestle with in an authentic light. In the Acknowledgements at the end of the book he provided resources for those struggling with mental health and admitted to his own struggles that were reflected in Aza’s character.

Mental illness has been a trending topic both in writing and the media. With recent suicides in Hollywood a lot of energy has been focused on getting people the help that they need. As someone with diagnosed anxiety, I found myself relating to Aza on some level while also being inspired to push past my fears in order to avoid situations she faced.

I’m a fan of John Green. I liked The Fault In Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, and Paper Towns. In my Honors History classes, I occasionally show clips from his Crash Course Youtube channel where John Green and his brother explain eras of history in their own quirky way. When I first started teaching, his books were all the rage, but with his movie deals and Youtube Channel it’s been a while since he released a book. Last year when this book came out I added it to the top of my To-Read list on Goodreads. Thankfully, I finally had the opportunity to read this one. It was a quick read, and totally worth every minute. At times, the main character really annoyed me, but it helped me to see what anxiety can be like for the people surrounded by it. Mental illness affects far more than just your mind. Relationships feel the tremors and fallout associated with the internal battles we all face.

Follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading next!

The Ameri Brit Mom

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A Piece of the World: A Book Review

Title: A Piece of the World

Author: Christina Baker Kline

Publisher: William Morrow

Copyright Date: 2017

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My first ever published book review was on The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Since then, I’ve awaited a new novel by this spectacular author who is known for weaving narrative into non-fiction stories. In A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline writes a fictional account of the woman pictured in Andy Wyeth’s famous painting, Christina’s World. Although the story itself is a novel, much research went into finding the facts and spirit behind that original painting.

Christina Olson lived on her family homestead in New England along with her brother Alvaro. Too weak to live on her own due to a physical ailment, Christina tried not to depend too heavily on any person. On one side, her family came from the Hawthorn line, notorious for her ancestor’s role in the convicting of witches in Salem. On the other side, she traced back to a poor Swedish family. The family farm had been an heirloom for many generations, and when her other brothers leave to create their own lives they leave their invalid sister and her closest brother to continue the work of the self-sufficient home.

A life of washing, making, and sustaining is all Christina knew until one man shows up and offers her promises. His grand words and attention conjure up fantasies of a normal life outside of the white washed walls of the family home. But, Christina’s own stubbornness becomes her worst enemy.

After neglecting the help and well wishes of others, Christina Olson reserved herself to life as a spinster on the farm where cats, dishes, and sewing are all she needed. She let opportunities slip through her fingers and turned down any offers to help her physical condition. Years go by where she and Alvaro slave away each day to maintain the home until a young visitor and her artist boyfriend show up on the doorstep. The artist wanted to paint her home.

The artist became a summer fixture in the Olson home spending hours in an upper room capturing life on the farm. And it is in the final revealing of years of work that Christina finally sees and accepts that this home is her entire world.

It was there that she learned to walk, love, and survive. What else could she possibly need?

This story was very well written and even though it’s about a woman who rarely leaves her home it is filled with twists and drama that hook the reader. Having recently visited New England I also enjoyed getting caught up in the vivid scenes and settings painted by the words of the author.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Female of the Species: A Book Review

Title: The Female of the Species

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Copyright Date: 2016

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Mindy McGinnis draws you immediately into the action of this novel with the hook, “This is how I kill someone.”

Alex Craft’s sister was murdered, and ever since Alex has struggled to feel anything but numb. Withdrawn from the rest of humanity, Alex finds herself reluctant to log hours for a senior project at the local animal shelter. While working at the shelter, Alex meets Peekay, the Pastor’s daughter, who helps Alex open up little by little. A friendship forms between the two, and Alex finds herself thrust back into social interactions. But there was a reason she hid away. She’s protecting those around her.

The death of her sister not only stole her emotions, but also created an instinct. That instinct pulls Alex toward revenge and violence. As Alex goes from another face in the crowd to part of the in-crowd it becomes more of a challenge to keep her beast at bay. Falling in love also proves to be just as dangerous as she feared.

Told from three perspectives this novel gives the reader a glimpse into life of a pastor’s kid who loves to get drunk and frisky, a jock who falls in love with Alex, and a female vigilante out to avenge her sister’s murder.

I liked to envision Alex Craft as a young, female version of Dexter from the television series. She’s odd. People don’t really know the real Alex. Oh, and in her spare time she kills the bad guys that the cops let get away.

I’m a fan of anything Mindy McGinnis. After hosting her at my school, teaching her novel Not a Drop to Drink in my classroom, and encountering her several times in my SCBWI group I have mad respect for her as an author. This book is very well written, but I caution readers of her other works that this one is written for a much more mature readership. From the outset, she makes it clear that the intended audience should be okay with vivid scenes of violence. Additionally, she covers topics like rape, sex, and drugs throughout the course of Alex’s story.

Other books I’ve reviewed by McGinnis include: Not a Drop to Drink and A Madness So Discreet.

“The female of the species is more deadly than the male.”-Rudyard Kipling

The Ameri Brit Mom

Hope Unfolding: A Book Review

Title: Hope Unfolding

Author: Becky Thompson

Publisher: WaterBrook

Copyright Date: 2016

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I was introduced to this book while visiting a Mother’s cLife group at my church. As I sat around and listened to the way the women reacted to the book I decided that night I had to get my own copy. I listened as Mom’s fessed up about their own shortcomings, and I was brought to tears by the way they united together in support for the struggles that mothers often face.

Somewhere down the line our culture decided it wasn’t okay to talk about how difficult and demanding being a mother actually is. Many new moms find themselves aching to talk about the hard times, but instead they paint on a smile and act like motherhood is the easiest role they’ve ever played.

Becky Thompson calls out all those bluffs.

With chapter titles like A Fight for Joy, Is It Just Me?, Real Life Looks Lived In, and Don’t Run Her Race, Thompson brings a voice to some of the fears that society silences within moms.

As I read through this book I experienced breakthroughs in my own life. I never realized that certain things I do as a mother are indicative of living in fear. And as I began to throw off those weights I found myself joining Thompson in prayer. I want to see what parenting looks like when we join together as mothers and throw off all the fears. Fears of weakness. Fears of insignificance. Fears of comparison. Fears of not measuring up to impossible standards.

One thing that set this book apart from others is the refreshing format that Thompson uses. Each chapter seems more like a conversation than a lesson. Within the pages the author explains how she learned from her own life experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and then she provides you an opportunity to explore your own life and interact with the text.

Whether new to motherhood or years into the gig this book contains truth you need to hear!

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

The Bone Clocks: A Book Review

Title: The Bone Clocks

Author: David Mitchell

Publisher: Sceptre

Copyright Date: 2014

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One thing I look forward to every summer when we visit England is stopping in Waterstones Bookstore and looking to see what is current in British fiction. Two summers ago, The Bone Clocks, was at the top of every list. I don’t tend to choose science fiction for myself, so I decided to buy this book for my sister with the intent to borrow.

It took two years, but I followed through with that plan.

The Bone Clocks is one of the longest books I have ever read. At 613 pages, this book is nearly twice as long as my usual reads. The text is divided into six chapters. Each chapter is a different POV during a different decade, but all are connected.

From the onset, the reader meets Holly Sykes, a British teenager in 1984. After arguments with her parents about her inappropriate relationship with an older man, Holly decides to runaway. She finds herself on a road to self-discovery during the time on her own. On the night of her escape, Holly encounters a strange elderly woman, meets her partner, and finds out that her younger brother has gone missing.

Hugo Lamb has always had the world handed to him on a silver platter. His parents are some of the wealthiest in England, and it has always been expected that he will carry out their legacy at an ivy league school. Over Christmas break in 1991, Hugo meets Holly while on a ski adventure with friends.

In 2004, Holly’s sister, Sharon, is getting married and her daughter’s father has flown in from Iraq to be a part of the big day. Ed Brubeck has spent much of their daughter, Aioffe’s, life overseas reporting on the wars of the Middle East. Some days Ed dreams of being married to Holly and having the family he always dreamed of, but his addiction to the thrill of battle keeps him from making that commitment.

Since she was a young girl, Holly has suffered from inexplicable dreams. Haunted by the apparent death of her younger brother, she finds herself communicating with the same elderly woman in her dreams. These strange encounters lead to Holly writing an novel, which eventually lands her amongst the greatest modern writers. While at a speaking engagement in Spain in 2014, Holly meets the acclaimed Crispin Hershey and begins to form a relationship with the author.

All of Holly’s strange dreams begin to make sense in 2025 when she is introduced to Horology, a group of souls that have survived death several times over. She meets Marinus who teaches her about the Great War between Anchorites and Horologists, and she becomes a pawn in the fight for Horology.

In 2043, after the collapse of the world-as-we-know-it, Holly finds herself taking in two orphans in her old age. Having survived so much heartache and terror in her own life, Holly tries to teach the orphans the most important things, and she learns to sacrifice herself for those she loves.

From its first page all the way through page 613, I was drawn into Holly’s life and those she meets along the way. Most of the story follows the rules of realistic fiction, but every so often Mitchell lays breadcrumbs for the reader leading up to the climax–a war between two entities beyond this world. In the end, the reader is left thinking about the difference that each decision can make and the chain reactions that they begin.

The Ameri Brit Mom

A Madness So Discreet: A Book Review

Title: A Madness So Discreet

Author: Mindy McGinnis

Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books

Copyright Date: 2015

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(photo credit: Good Reads)

Set in the 1800s in a famous insane asylum in Ohio, this thriller explores insanity and the patients who find themselves exiled to the depths of asylum halls. Grace Mae is the oldest daughter of a senator. When her father’s secrets become a danger to his reputation he sends her away to an asylum in Boston where she is mistreated. During her stay in Boston she meets a young doctor named Thornhollow who specializes in the practice of performing lobotomies to cure the insane.

The doctor sees that Grace is no less sane than himself, but rather she has become the victim of a dark man. He devises a plan to get her out of the Boston asylum and brings her to Ohio with him where she will be cared for and will serve alongside him in the study of criminal minds.

In her new home, Grace hides under the alias of insanity. She trades her voice for a chance to catch criminals like her father and becomes protege to the doctor.

A letter from her younger sister, Alice, changes her focus and forces Grace to take much more drastic action.

A Madness So Discreet was one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past couple of years. It was brilliantly written and had me hooked from page one. The dramatic themes of the book kept me on the edge of my seat as I hoped to find justice for all the wrongs done to Grace by people she should have been able to trust. Her desire to protect her sister from the harm she faced also pulled on heart strings. This book is a cross between historical fiction and criminal investigation with a large dose of family drama.

The author, Mindy McGinnis, is an Ohioan whom I have met on several occasions. Her first book, Not a Drop to Drink, is one that my students read and she came and spoke at my school last spring after we finished reading that book. Also, she spoke to my SCBWI group a few weeks ago about character development. Next month she is releasing a new book, Given to the Sea, that I am excited about. Mindy’s YA books are among my favorites and A Madness So Discreet is my favorite one yet. If you are looking for a book to hook you from the very onset this is a great book for you!

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Thin Space: A Book Review

Title: Thin Space

Author: Jody Casella

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Copyright Date: 2013

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A few months after the car accident that stole away his twin, Marshall is desperate to contact his brother. He remembers the old Celtic legend that his elderly neighbor told him before her passing. A thin space is a place where a soul both entered and left the world. It is believed that these are places where the wall between this life and the after life is thin enough to pass through. At the time his neighbor explained this legend it sounded insane, but now Marshall is so desperate to see his brother and set things right that he’s willing to give it a try.

Before her passing the neighbor left Marshall instructions for locating a thin space. Part of the legend states that one must enter the thin space with bare feet. Marshall goes all over town in the dead of winter without shoes in the off chance that he walks through a thin space.

When Maddie moves into the neighbor’s house, Marshall starts to open up about the accident. At first, it’s the convenience of wanting to search her house for a thin space which sparks their relationship, but soon Marshall learns that they both have something to gain from finding a thin space.

This is a boy’s journey to cope with the loss of a sibling. It shows how we go to great lengths to just have one more conversation with the ones we love who have passed.

I really enjoyed this read. I’ve been reading through YA fiction from Ohio authors this year. I have actually met Jody Casella on several occassions as she is the coordinator for my chapter of the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.) If you are looking for a supernatural thriller Thin Space is an exemplary piece.

The Ameri Brit Mom

Gone Too Far: A Book Review

Title: Gone Too Far

Author: Natalie D. Richards

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Copyright Date: 2015

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Ever since I became a member of the central Ohio SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) I’ve been on a quest to read books by Ohio authors. This book was recommended to me by my high school librarian. The author is local to our area. 

Piper Woods is a senior just trying to make it to graduation. Her future plans are all laid out and include paying out of state tuition and studying photography. She won’t miss the cliques and the drama of high school, and she’s aching to get out of her dysfunctional home.

All of that changes when she finds a notebook laying in the hallway of the school. She picks it up and flips through the pages. It doesn’t take her long to figure out that someone is using the notebook to record secrets about her classmates. She soon realizes that knowing the secrets comes at a dangerous price.

After tragedy claims someone mentioned in the notebook Piper decides to turn it in and walk away. Before she can do that, a text message urging her to make things right changes her mind. Piper finds herself caught up in the secrets of the school. Torn between making people pay for the harm they have caused and keeping her squeaky clean record Piper is forced to make some major choices.

Natalie D. Richards is also the author of Six Months Later. Many of my students have read that book and it seems just as good as Gone Too Far. I look forward to continuing my list of Ohio authors over the next couple of months. Some of the authors of the list (like Natalie D. Richards) are also part of the SCBWI with me. It is so cool to read a book by someone I have met. It makes my dream of becoming an author seem so much more realistic. Let me know if you are interested in some reading suggestions written by Ohio authors. There are some really great pieces that come from my home state.

The Ameri Brit Mom

A Man Called Ove: A Book Review

Title: A Man Called Ove

Author: Fredrik Backman

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Copyright Date: 2014

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The first snow day of 2017 was the perfect day to wrap up my first book for the year as well. For the past several weeks I have come to know the cast of A Man Called Ove, and I took the icy road conditions as an excuse to put my professional life on hold in order to say my farewells to this lovely community of Swedes. I’ve learned so much and been reminded of even more. This was a fantastic call to love the unlovable and to show compassion to the callous.

Everyone in his neighborhood of row houses thinks they have Ove all figured out. He’s the typical curmudgeon whose life follows a routine set in stone, whose patience for anything foreign made and trendy is non-existent, and whose affinity with holding the rest of the homeowners on his street to the association rules makes no exceptions. His life is black and white. And don’t even think about selling this Swede any car other than a Saab.

He’s the bitter old man down the road. The one that everyone murmurs about.

But when his new Iranian neighbor and her husband move next door Ove finds himself struggling to maintain his solidarity. For one, her idiot husband can’t drive a U-Haul to save his life. For two, what adult woman is incapable of securing a driver’s license? For three, a shut door does nothing to limit the Iranian from barging into his house like they were something of friends.

Ove had given up. But with the help of the new neighbors, an unsettled feud, and a stray cat Ove realizes that not everyone has given up on him.

This was one of those stories that restores your hope in humanity. It reminds us that we can’t judge a book by its cover and that everyone has a story to tell. I really enjoyed this book. Much like he did in My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Backman heightens your sensitivity to the most villainous characters in our world.

Overseas, Backman is taking the literary world by storm. In America his books are a little slower catching on, but they are worth the read. There is also a foreign movie based on this novel that is capturing the attention of critics.

I’m on the hunt to find it!

 

The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Books of 2016

Happy Christmas Eve!

Another year is coming to a close and as another reflection on where I’ve been and what I have accomplished this year I wanted to capture my 2016 Reading List. I began 2016 with the goal of reading 24 books. I wanted to vary my reading exposure so I created a Reading Challenge for the year. I was able to nearly finish the challenge, but still have a few books to go before I complete it in 2017. I am happy to say that I expanded my exposure to different genres and authors this year and I diversified my reading from online periodicals, magazines, and eBooks (as well as the classic book.)

For each of the books listed below, you can find a review or information about the book under my books category in the right-hand margin. I hope you had a lovely year reading.

Devotional Books

-Fear Fighting by Kelly Balarie

Five Minute Friday by the Five Minute Friday Link Up (with a poem by me!)

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

-Live Loved by Margaret Feinberg

 

Writing Books-These are books I focused on this year on the blog to hone my writing skills.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Writer Magazine

The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke

 

Other Books (Book Challenge)

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Numbers by Rachel Ward

Whole 30/It Starts With Food by Melissa Hartwig

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Tru and Nelle by G. Neri

The Crown by Keira Cass

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The Heir by Keira Cass

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

The One by Keira Cass

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

A Separate Peace by John Knowles

The Elite by Keira Cass

The Selection by Keira Cass

Real Time by Pnina Moed Kass

Good Omens by Terry Prachett and Neil Gaiman

Schooled in Revenge by Jesse Lasky

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederick Backman

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Dreamlander by K.M. Weiland

 

I’m looking for reading plan suggestions for the new year. I’ve been really impressed by a new local library and have been spending a lot of time combing through their YA and adult fiction selections. I’m kind of on a YA kick right now as my next book I’m writing is from the perspective of a teenager.

Happy ready goals in 2017!

The Ameri Brit Mom