Book Reviews, Kid's Books

The Last Tree Town by Beth Turley

In The Last Tree Town, Cassi Chord is coming to terms with growing up – identity, culture, heritage, sisterhood, friendships, family dynamics, and mental health are all important elements of Beth Turley’s latest work.

It’s been forty-seven days since our last night of s’mores and scary stories. The number forty-seven has too many sharp edges.”

I really enjoyed The Last Tree Town. It’s classified as a middle school-aged book and I wish I had read a book like this when I was 12.

Turley’s story pieces together many of the things I hadn’t been able to say then and oftentimes struggle to say now.

Because of that, laughter and tears were also common as I read.

I stare at the threes until they look like eights and hearts and fish. I forget if the sum of a bunch of negatives is eventually positive or if it just stays negative forever.”

I really enjoyed Beth Turley’s writing style!

The mix of memories, present day narrative, and diary entries made for short, efficient chapters.

Quirky little details brought the characters to life. For example, Cassi loves numbers.

In the story, Cassi relates issues she encounters to math theories. I love that Cassi excels at math and that the Math Olympics group in the story has three girls in it and not just one “token” female mathlete.

I cannot speak to Cassi’s experiences growing up as Puerto Rican and Caucasian. I can, however, relate to the other things a 12 year old girl experiences – crushes, older sister dynamics, shifting friend groups, complete awareness of the self without actually knowing who that self is.

Depression is a key element of the story. Its effect on the Chord family and their friends is palpable and all too real. It’s inspiring and comforting to read about this health issue in The Last Tree Town because it gives me hope that there will be a positive impact around the stigma.

If you or anyone you know is struggling or has concerns about their mental health, check out these resources listed on the National Institute of Mental Health website. An internet search of resources will also yield results specific to your local area.

Learn more about Beth Turley and her works on her author website.

Book Reviews

The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse

Things The Sanatorium has: murder, mystery, history, anticipation, and an unforgettable ending.

I finished this book on a cold, grey, drizzly night. Definitely spent the next hour or two feeling like there was someone watching me. Thanks a lot, Sarah! *accusatory but secretly thrilled stare in her direction*

One of the reasons I like this book is that Sarah Pearse did such a good job of making anyone seem like a suspect that I had to get to the end to find out who did it.

I even suspected the main character a few times!

And while along the way I had plenty of speculations, Pearse provides a few surprises to keep us on our toes.

And that ending! I can’t give too much away but let’s just say, it made me want to go back and immediately re-read the whole book to look for clues!

On a personal note, finishing a book lately has been a mental struggle for me. We are all exhausted with many things and I was so happy when I finished this. Starting to feel back in my groove!

Have you read The Sanatorium? Let me know in the comments what you thought or if it’s on your tbr!

Learn more about Sarah Pearse at her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam is not your typical suspense novel.

The best way to describe Leave the World Behind is that it is somehow both subtle and specific.

Human nature + the unknown + what we do when we are put to the test are themes throughout.

I will not lie – while it picked up at the end, I struggled with a good chunk of this book. Leave the World Behind is certainly not an edge-of-your-seat thriller. It is at times (purposefully?) slow.

The writing style is also in stark contrast to the books I normally read. One thing specifically is that I had a hard time connecting to the characters.

After I finished reading, I watched a couple short videos of Rumaan Alam talking about Leave the World Behind and I think if I had watched them while I was having Motivation Difficulties, it would have helped – must remember this tip for future reading!

What kept me going were the overall themes and that I was intrigued by the concept itself. Plus this line specifically I really enjoyed: “if they weren’t human, in this moment, then they were nothing.”

This book was hard to read while I was reading it, but I’ve been thinking about the concepts ever since. Maybe that’s just as important, if not more so. That almost makes me want to read it again – so I can see what I missed the first time.

The mystery of the emergency in the city also compelled me to keep reading because I wanted to find out what actually happened.

In summary, I’m glad I read it. It was easy to put down but impossible to forget about so I kept coming back to it. I think it’ s important to explore texts outside of our “reading comfort zone”.

Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam sounds more my speed – it’s about two best friends who grow up and have to find out if they can still be best friends. That’s definitely a concept I’m familiar with. I think I’ll give that one a shot next 🙂

Read more about Rumaan Alam and his other projects here.

Successful reading, friends!

Book Reviews

Happiness Week + Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies

Over the course of multiple weeks, I read Tara Schuster’s Buy Yourself the F*cking Lillies while working out on my treadmill.

It took some adjusting, I assure you. I’ve read on a stationary bike before but the treadmill was a new ballgame.

I would definitely recommend that you do not read this book while on the treadmill because if you – like me – like to journal or take notes, it’s really hard to do while working out. I took pictures of a couple things with my phone or saved something in the notes app, but it’s not quite the same.

Buy Yourself the F*cking Lilies will motivate you to create a life surrounded by the things you love from the inside out. Your existence will be full to the brim with reminders of the the things that make you happy. From the way you treat others to the way you respect yourself, this book will have something for you.

One thing Tara Schuster suggested in the book is writing down your wishes and putting them in a pretty place that is meaningful to you. Hers is a macaron box, mine also happens to be a macaron box. It’s a beautiful dark green with gold writing and is the perfect vessel for wishes both big and small. It had been sitting on a counter because I couldn’t bear to throw it away – destiny obviously had a plan for it. 🙂

She also shares a gratitude exercise she received as a recommendation – writing down a certain amount of things you’re grateful for every day in a journal. If you do that every day for a month, that’s 300 things to be grateful for! And if you did it for a whole year? That’s 3,650 things! You’ll likely repeat some things, but being able to recognize gratitude in even the smallest moments is important.

Her book (and some personal events) inspired me to do a “happiness challenge”. From January 20th to January 31st, I did one thing every day that made me happy, with the caveat that it be something I was doing intentionally for myself.

Doing things for your own happiness is so so so important to our wellness and self-worth. Tara Schuster reminded me that I am deserving of being treated intentionally well.

I am not an after-thought. I am not on this earth for passive consideration.

By treating myself well, I show others how I want to be treated.

This does not mean I want other people to buy me pearls and wine & dine me (don’t get me wrong, that sounds great!) This exercise helped shape my perception of treatment that I will accept from men in particular.

I have long struggled with less-than-adequate behavior from men being justified as something exceptional and noteworthy. I do not need a wealthy partner, but I do need someone who understands that the bare minimum will not fly. We all deserve to be treated in the best possible way.

This does not mean someone wealthy who can buy you things. This means someone’s intentions and actions match – if not exceed – the level of respect and care you know you deserve.

It’s been a few weeks since I finished the happiness week and a lot happened emotionally that sidelined the blog. Revisiting this post at this particular time is major because it goes to show how much I once again began to prioritize other things over my own happiness. Although, I have been able to stick with a daily journaling practice because of it – so something positive did come about.

I like to buy myself flowers every week or so to add color and freshness to my home.

My Happiness Activities

Day 1 – Got fancy at home in a dress + pearls
Day 2 – Bought myself beautiful white flowers that looked good everywhere in my house
Day 3 – Did a writing exercise (check out the blog post here)
Day 4 – Baking – almond flour chocolate chip banana bread
Day 5 – Watched some Jim Gaffigan stand-up
Day 6 – Taking photos and playing around with editing
Day 7 – Laughing with others and getting to know them
Day 8 – Running
Day 9 – Singing and listening to music I love
Day 10 – Hiking
Day 11 – Grocery shopping

I will note that on day 10, I did my activity – hiking – and did not feel happier in those moments. I fully recognized that hiking generally makes me happy and on that particular day it did not. This lesson was important for two reasons:
1. It reminded me that we are humans with various stressors going on internally and externally
2. I did the activity anyway, knowing that I wouldn’t at least feel worse for having tried.

White wine for little moments ❤

What makes you happy? What inspires you to spread joy or a lesson learned?

Check out more from Tara Schuster and learn about her book at her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman tells the story of Maria Owens – a young witch, afraid to fall in love, afraid to let anyone have power over her being.

I remember watching Practical Magic with my mom and my sister, thinking – obviously – how cool it would be to be able to do magic.

And did anyone else think those pancakes looked amazing??

I haven’t read Practical Magic, but I did previously read The Rules of Magic (which I also highly recommend). Honestly, I don’t know how I haven’t read PM yet… This will be my one and only 2021 new years resolution.

I digress.

Love is fickle, they say. Love is patient and kind.

I don’t know what I believe about love at this point in my life. I’m grappling with some personal things, so if I may be fully transparent, it was difficult for me to get into Magic Lessons because I did not want to think about love when I started reading it. It’s not a traditional romance novel, but the emotion of love in this story feels very strong to me. Any talk of heartbreak makes me want to bury my head in the sand, yet I persevered.

(I recently did two romance novels reviews and while I only briefly mentioned the above in one of those reviews, my sentiment holds true. It is very difficult sometimes for me to read about love. In a Holidaze was funny and The Right Swipe let me get out some of my online dating angst.)

But my favorite parts of this story would not exist without love – when Maria falls in love, when she is so tormented that she casts the now-famous (dare I say infamous?) curse on the Owens women, when her love for her daughter consumes her.

This tale takes the reader from England to Curacao and eventually Massachusetts and New York, meeting a slew of interesting characters along the way – some good, some bad.

Ultimately, this story reminds us that we must all decide to use our gifts for good or evil, for love or vengeance. Even the gifts that some people can’t see.

Alice Hoffman has written TONS of books that all look simply magical! Learn more about Alice Hoffman and her other works at her website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Happy 2021 to friends old and new! Oak + River Books’ first post of 2021 features historical fiction-meets-low fantasy novel The Binding. The author, Bridget Collins, has over a decade of published writing under her belt. Exploring more of her work is on my 2021 list of to-dos (note: not resolutions 🙂 ).

I purchased The Binding by Bridget Collins back in October, intrigued by the bookbinder aspect (which I am unfamiliar with) and, as always, lured by a pretty cover.

So purple!

Emmett Farmer is taken to a bookbinder’s home/shop to become their apprentice. The storyline twists and turns as we meet an assortment of interesting characters. The premise of the story is that books are off limits – telling you why would be a spoiler so you’ll have to dive in to find out.

Imagine being told books are bad then suddenly being sent off to learn how to make them. How confusing that would be!

In full transparency – I felt that the beginning had a few slow moments but the plot picks up and before I knew it, I was sucked in!

One of the things I liked about Collins’ writing style was her descriptive language. This quote about the moonlight really stuck out to me.

Collins definitely did some research on the details which makes the story come to life. I appreciated that the characters had very distinguished traits and some I wanted to see more of.

Dare I say it: there is totally room for a sequel and I will not be upset if that happens! I would love to learn more about what happens to Emmett as he emerges from being a young man into full-fledged adulthood.

The Binding is Collins’ first adult novel. To learn about her young adult works, I recommend visiting her author page on Goodreads and exploring from there. Learn more about her adult works – including the upcoming novel The Betrayals (not related to The Binding) – at HarperCollins.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Two romance reviews back-to-back? Who even am I??

In a Holidaze by the duo known as Christina Lauren was part of my December Book of the Month box. I chose it to be my Christmas day read for obvious reasons. (The holiday theme? The need for romance in 2020? You get it.)

And wow!

I tend to find every romance novel somewhat “cringe” because they make me roll my eyes. This book had a few cheesy moments but it was so not cringe – it hits the notes of nostalgia, old love, what it means to be family, and incorporating change into our lives.

In a Holidaze has all the best parts of your typical Christmas romance WITHOUT the over-the-top cheesiness.

Plus, it’s HILARIOUS! I bust out laughing multiple times.

Maelyn is stuck in a very relatable “what do I do with my life” and “universe give me a sign” mindset. Wish granted, she finds herself reliving the week of Christmas over and over.

Can Maelyn right her wrongs and break the spell? Will she learn how to be true to herself? Dear readers, please go find out!

Christina Lauren’s next novel is about a single mom – and as a single mom, I am definitely looking forward to that!

Learn more about this duo and their other works over on their website.

Happy reading, friends!

Book Reviews

Book Review: The Last Story of Mina Lee

“What would the world look like if she made it her own, even temporarily, for a moment, fleeting, so that she could experience again the throb, the hunger of being alive, eyes wide, teeth showing?”

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim is a gripping tale. It’s addictive, edgy, and so full of truth.

And I really mean addictive! I could not resist picking this up while I was still in the middle of another book. But I had to finish it asap. No regrets!

The story goes back-and-forth between Margot and Mina, two women trying to make their way on the West Coast.

Margot, set in the present, discovers her mother’s body, still and unmistakably dead. Despite her initial shock, suspicion immediately sets in. As Margot goes on a quest to discover the truth about her mother’s untimely demise, she ends up discovering more about her mother – and herself – than she thought possible.

The story of Mina, Margot’s mother, is set in the beginning of her new life in the United States, years that lead up to and include Margot’s birth. She finds, with mixed feelings, camaraderie in coworkers and a few new friends. Through her new relationships and finding her way in a new place, Mina must navigate the murky waters that come with starting over while coping with the pains of the past.

As Margot traverses the mysteries surrounding her mother’s death, she must also grapple with the mysteries of her own mind. How much of her life has been shaped by who she thought her mother was? Who could Margot be if she allowed herself to just be?

This novel explores immigration, power, status, the American dream, loss, heartbreak, and what it means to belong. The characters learn lessons on owning their lives for who they are and what they have done – and it some cases, what they have not done.

This is a mystery without reading like a mystery. The characters are diverse and well-developed. I like that the storyline alternates between Margot and Mina – vastly different but similar in ways that run deeper than the surface.

Have you read The Last Story of Mina Lee? Leave me a comment and let me know what you thought or if it’s on your tbr!

Happy reading, friends! 🙂

Book Reviews

Book Review: THICK and Other Essays

THICK and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD, was one of my August Book of the Month Club selections. It is eye-opening, descriptive, and academic (the 20 pages of notes and references rocked my world).

THICK is not a history book. While McMillan Cottom draws on personal experiences, it is not specifically autobiographical enough to be a classic memoir. It is academic without reading like a textbook. It does combine all of these elements. McMillan Cottom says in the text that it’s a loose version of “opinion writing”.

THICK is not a long read, but it is hefty. It’s not a book that feels right to devour in one afternoon because a) some of the sentences I had to read five times, out loud, slowly, and reword to make my brain comprehend them and b) this is Important Stuff.

What is Important Stuff? Historically, those who held power, money, and title decided what other people should think was important. For a long time, certain groups’ opinions on what was and was not important did not matter – especially if they couldn’t read, couldn’t write, and couldn’t speak English, and therefore could not vote.

“If my work is about anything it is about making plain precisely how prestige, money, and power structure our so-called democratic institutions so that most of us will always fail.”

Tressie Mcmillan cottom – “Girl 6” in THICK AND OTHER ESSAYS

Black women and Black peoples should not be delegated to the role of a statistic. Yet they are. And people still don’t believe them, and they choose to not believe or rely on statistics that don’t mesh with a pre-determined opinion.

Important Stuff includes anti-racism not only by educating ourselves and admitting to ourselves, if not others, that we are wrong – even if we don’t profit from systemic traits, we at least are not worse off because of it – but by also acting upon it. I look at my life and think of how so many people say “I don’t see color” and I remember when that’s something i would thought was progressive. But it only hides the issue. It doesn’t change reality.

Reading THICK and Other Essays can be part of the catalyst for us all to learn more while we do more.

To learn more about Tressie McMillan Cottom, PhD, and her other works, visit her website.