Score: 93+ out of 10 (9.3+ out of 10)
You Will Never Be Normal is an excellent, spellbinding memoir by Catherine Klatzker focused on psychology, mental illness, and childhood trauma.
It is a captivating glimpse into the mind and life of one who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, something that can stem from intense trauma and can manifest itself in the form of multiple personalities similar to schizophrenia.
It's frightening, fascinating, and tragic.
One of the tragedies and saddest things about this book is that the disorder seems to stem from Catherine's sexual abuse at the hands of her own father, who would frequently surprise or ambush her with sexual encounters and activity—what's often referred to as his “bad daddy” side, something completely opposite and different from his “good daddy” side. What's especially sad about this, from our point of view as reviewers of many books of this nature, is that this real-life story is cliché at this point—we've read about fathers (and male family members) sexually exploiting and abusing their children in numerous books including When to Run, Born Scared by Stephanie King and Fictionally Nonfiction by Wynn Thanh Phi. It never ceases to be uncomfortable and sad. It hurts even more when it's a loved one who has permanently scarred their children for life by robbing them or taking advantage of their innocence.
Throughout the course of the book, Catherine develops and reveals multiple different identities/personalities who literally come to the forefront (of her mind, self, and being), speaking for her and even acting for her.
Perhaps the strongest and most frightening of her personalities is “Cat.” Cat seems to be the alpha and the leader of the personalities, a powerful, domineering personality who is ultra-protective, possessive, and controlling. As a means of trying to regain control (that was perceived to have been lost due to the abuse), Cat pushes Catherine to cutting and self-harm. Cat isn't “evil” per se (although she is arguably the main villain of this story next to Catherine's dad), but she is rather dark and malicious. Cat is often said to “hate.”
Cat is also the main personality that is against Catherine continuing her treatment with Dr. Lew, expressing concern that Dr. Lew is a threat to the existence of Cat and the other identities. Despite all this, Cat is also the strongest, bravest, boldest, and most courageous of the personalities. Sounding almost like a fearless, adolescent tomboy, she helps Catherine to stand firm against real and perceived threats and to be on guard at all times.
Catherine also has some weaker, softer, and more vulnerable personalities. For example, there's Baby—her youngest and most vulnerable self, needing protection from the other personalities. There's Tina, her “teen” identity, the self-criticizing part of her that also tends to be among the most apprehensive and “hopeless.” Tina will often try to keep Catherine quiet and from sharing too much information that could leave her open, vulnerable, or defenseless.
Cathie may be one of Catherine's most negative personalities—the depressed, down, and dire one. Cathie sees the worst in almost every situation, dreading what may come.
All of these personalities are constantly vying for control of Catherine's mind and body, which prompts Catherine to ask the book's key question: “Whose body is this?”
Throughout the book, it seems that these identities are treated like “parts” of a whole (Catherine herself) and that all of them have some sort of place in her overall identity and existence (her “self”). Ultimately, all of them must confront and come to terms with the trauma that has befallen them.
Another thing that's fascinating about this book is how dream-like, bizarre, atmospheric, and surreal it can be. You never quite know what is real and what is not. Truth is subjective based on the perception of the narrator. There's an especially haunting scene in which the narrator describes attempting to place a prosthetic eye into someone's socket (as part of a basic medical procedure), but the trauma they experience and the struggle they have reminds her of her abuse and brings out her worst, most aggressive impulses. Amazingly, many of the narrator's family members either flip-flop on or completely deny the events described, which adds even more to the mystery and intrigue.
Check this out on Amazon!
Score: 93+/100 (9.3+ out of 10)
The Soul Machines by Alexandru Czimbor excels in one key way: portraying a drastically, dramatically changing world. The world-building in this book is excellent. You can literally feel the transition between the old world and the new—a shift of monumental proportions perhaps unparalleled in human history.
The beginning of this book almost made us think that it was set in the late 1100s during the Medieval Inquisition and feudalism in Europe. We thought we were reading a book that took place in the Middle-Ages! Do you blame us?
The novel follows a Romanian-Hungarian peasant named Vogt Tudor (often just called “Tudor”) who lives near the bottom of a very hierarchical society dominated by the clergy (the Catholic Church) and the aristocracy (the ultra-rich/old money).
This book does an extraordinary job at showing us and contrasting the old ways of the old world: hierarchy, aristocracy, feudalism, religious dogmatism, arranged marriages, misogyny, corporal punishment of students, segregation, divisions between races and social classes, ethnocentrism, a lack of worker's rights, a lack of rights for women and minorities, a lack of civil rights, indentured servitude, and ultra-nationalism leading to fascism.
Well, guess what? This book takes place at the end of the 19th century! That was a shocker to us as well.
It's a foreign world. A world that seems so unfamiliar and alien, yet it's stunningly our world from a different time: a harsh, brutal, unrefined, unenlightened time.
Beside showcasing a hauntingly unfamiliar, alien Europe, this book also puts us in the shoes of people who reflect different demographics of the time. There's Sami, the gypsy. There's Roni, the pure-blooded Hungarian. There's Mikhaila, the budding feminist at a time before feminism as we know it. There's also Orsolya, a girl who pays the price for her father's failing business through a forced arranged marriage to Karoly, one of the most despicable characters in the book (we'll get to him soon).
Orsolya, being of higher birth, is loved and admired by Tudor, creating a tragic class-divided dynamic similar to Jack & Rose from Titanic. It's actually quite romantic and compelling in that regard. Orsolya herself is a wonderfully tragic character who held us by the heartstrings similar to Ophelia from Hamlet. The will-they/won't-they dynamic between her and Tudor really kept us reading, even into the later chapters after they'd been separated for so long. We really hoped they might rekindle the close, taboo bond they shared.
This book has several memorable villains. Among them are “the bishop” who terrorizes the characters throughout the first half of this book, and whose oppressive presence lingers throughout. The bishop is a man, similar to Frollo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who is blinded by his religious convictions, believing that he is beyond reproach and can do no wrong. The bishop believes that the ends justify the means. In other words, he has convinced/deluded himself that because he “serves God” he is free to hurt people if it means doing so. He even owns his own dungeon. The bishop also seems to extort money from the poor and desperate (perhaps through “tithing”) while also taking bribes from the rich. He represents the worst of the religious order and religious dogma in general. He makes the lives of the other characters an oppressive living hell.
Another tremendous villain is Karoly, the bishop's nephew. However, Karoly seems to represent more the corruption of money and nobility rather than of a religious belief system. Karoly is RICH. Being rich, he seems to believe that he can do whatever he wants, marry whoever he wants, use whoever he wants, and abuse whoever he wants without consequence. He is also a primordial Nazi, holding very racist beliefs and frightening beliefs about white supremacy and German superiority. Despite being related to the bishop, he really doesn't seem to use religion as an excuse for his actions like the bishop does. Karoly is guided by wealth and power.
What's fascinating about this book is that you actually get to follow Karoly and his frighteningly delusional thought process at times. It's somewhat like when we heard about Garrett in Pounding Bass. He is always excusing his actions based on his status as a pure-blooded German and his wealth, feeling entitled to do great evil.
With all that said, our favorite character by far was the count, Richter.
Count Richter seems to be the author's primary mouthpiece, and perhaps the book's greatest voice of reason. This is a phenomenally significant statement considering that this book is FILLED TO THE BRIM with irrational, illogical people blinded by religious dogma, socio-political ideologies (like proto-Nazism, fascism, socialism, and communism), and simple ignorance due to a lack of education.
Count Richter is highly educated and highly cultured (and familiar with other cultures). Despite being from old money, he doesn't allow it to blind him to the suffering or plight of others. He doesn't feel better or superior to others. However, he does believe in mutual respect and meritocracy. He doesn't demand that the monks fall to their knees at the sight of him, but he does demand that they not threaten him with violence. He doesn't tell the socialists that they're stupid or low-lifes, but instead has a civil debate/conversation with them.
He believes in providing incentives for hard word, merit, and new/good ideas. For this, we greatly applauded him. Some of his statements near the end of this book literally had us clapping and cheering.
Check this out on Amazon!
Score: 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
The Dirt Bike Detective: The Beast in the Shadows is the much-anticipated second book in The Dirt Bike Detective series! This is a series that follows a group of ragtag students of a bizarre, haunted school as they attempt to solve mysteries together.
The previous book seriously impressed us with its wit and humor. The entire book almost reads like a satire of the genre, taking the perspective of a snarky and sarcastic yet insecure little boy named Oliver as he chronicles the adventure he has with a young paranormal detective named Chase, and his crush, Jax.
Now, did Chase and Oliver swap places in this book? We ask this because their personalities seem almost the opposite of what they were in the previous book. Primarily, Chase—the cool and collected Sherlock Holmes-type—is scared and terrified for much of this book. Meanwhile, Oliver is quite composed, although he still ponders phenomena like the moving gargoyle statues outside the school and the ghost of Charlie Hackett, a student who is believed to have leaped from the top of the school in its distant past.
Now, Chase has a lot of reasons to be terrified in this book. He begins this book basically having PTSD nightmares based on what happened in the previous book. He also has a serious reason to fear for his immortal soul in the middle of the this book.
This kinda highlights that being brave doesn't mean not being scared, it's being scared and going through with things anyway.
Jax is a little less appealing in this book than the last, especially since she seems to be the Debbie Downer of the group. She likes to think rationally and refuses to believe that things like ghosts and monsters exist. She also seems to be the pessimist of the group. However, Oliver still thinks the world of her.
One thing that was instantly exciting about this book is that a lot of unsolved/unresolved mysteries from the previous book were still present. The epilogue/epic-overblown-explanation at the end of the last book still admitted that there were still a few unresolved plot threads and some holes left.
Many of the major and minor players from the last book were still out there doing their thing:
- The Gambler Ghost is still functioning, apparently in the basement under the school that led to the secret undergoround mines in the last book
- Charlie Hackett is still a presence, haunting the school and appearing from time to time
- Odyssey, the hot blonde ghost is still out doing her thing and actually has a somewhat major role in this book
- Principal Sterns, who we'd assumed would be a villain if not the main villain of the last book, is still around. He escaped the last book mostly unscathed, mostly serving as a kind of red herring.
- Miss Crabtree is still Miss Crabtree, probably giving birth to all-star wide-receivers and teaching... whatever she teaches. Was it literature? Was she the one who kept reciting poems in the last book?
- Frank the maintenance guy is still here, more sketchy and suspicious than ever
- Ana Rahela, one of our favorite characters from the last book, is back as the running meme that she is. However, she actually seems more involved with the crew this time around, almost a part of the team... almost. It is still hilarious how annoying the narrator, Oliver, finds her, even imagining giving her a one-way ticket to a far away place.
Ana is a true intellectual and an imaginative person despite the eye-rolls she gets from Oliver and crew. She actually comes up with one of the most clever ideas for solving part of the mystery.
Speaking of mystery, this book's plot kicks off with—of all things—the mysterious theft of some pizzas. This later snowballs into a crazy, wild plot that goes up, down, side to side, and all around.
This is definitely a fun and humorous book series!
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 94/100 (9.4 out of 10)
Great Big Breath by DW Long is an excellent children's book with practical applications.
The core of this book is the power of breathing (particularly deep, controlled breathing) to help to alleviate tense or uncomfortable feelings/situations.
This is absolutely, positively an effective method of dealing with stress and anxiety. We've used it ourselves! With a yoga instructor and competitive strength athlete in our ranks, we can confirm that deep breathing holds a special power. It's a practice that goes unacknowledged or used most of the time. Many people take very shallow, sporadic breaths. Their bodies are constantly starved for oxygen. This presents a major problem for people because oxygen is our foremost necessity for the sake of our lives and health! It even takes priority over water and food!
Like we alluded to before, breathing techniques like this are useful in yoga and strength sports. In yoga, breathing is a major focus with practitioners instructed to inhale and exhale at key points during poses. In strength sports, the valsalva maneuver (holding a deep, big breath) is used to help keep the core rigid and protect the spine during heavier movements.
This book follows Quinn, a cute, cuddly little monkey. You also get to meet his mom and dad.
Right off the bat, this is a very charming and appealing book for children. They will immediately be able to relate to Quinn and his parents. Part of that is that the art is very cute and charming, and the other part is that the writing is very simple and accessible. It flows well... for the most part.
There are moments near the first quarter of the book when the narrative seems to get distracted. For example, there's a moment when Quinn just seeks a “quiet place” where he escapes into his imagination. Then, the narrator says that we'll get back to that later. This happens twice. Now, with a little mental gymnastics, we figured out that this part of the plot is supposed to show that Quinn is an anxious person with social anxieties, however, it's really hard to gather that from the initial reading. The first time you read this, you'll likely either be distracted by how cute Quinn is or think nothing of it.
After the first 25% of the book, it flows very well. One event leads to another event naturally.
Something great about this book is that it provides practical examples of when deep breathing can be effective. It can be used when you're mad, sad, anxious, nervous, or scared.
At the end of the book, there are even instructions on how best to read and use the book along with your children/students. We kinda wished that some of these instructions were mentioned earlier (so that we could follow them in our first reading), but it's ok. You are told to inhale when the book uses one key word/phrase and to exhale when it uses another.
All in all, this is a fantastic little children's book.
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
Nurse Florence(R) How Do We Grow? is an ambitious, colorful, and highly educational children's book about medical science (and science in general)! This is one in a series of books intended to introduce children to the beauties and wonders of science.
We are so excited for this series and the potential that it holds!
This specific book concerns the question of how human beings grow through the actions of the pituitary gland and HGH (human growth hormone).
Condi, Jean, and Sonia are precocious students who are fascinated by the topics in their science class. They discuss things like the process of photosynthesis (how plants use sunlight, air, and water to produce their energy/food as well as oxygen and sugar).
Along the way, they run into the titular Nurse Florence, a female nurse who wears a hijab, implying she is of Arabic and/or Muslim origins. In our head canon (which may not be accurate) she is from Senegal, something we inferred due to her last name being Florence and because of Senegal's French colonial history.
The students, being curious and eager learners, prompt Nurse Florence to talk to them about how human beings grow. She then goes onto an app (perhaps a medical or science app) that helps her to teach them about the “master” pituitary gland at the base of the brain and the growth hormone that it secretes. Something new to some of us was how she explained how the cells divided into two to cause growth. So even we learned something!
Not only does she talk about growth hormone, but she also lays the seeds of curiosity for the entire endocrine system and other hormones.
Something we loved about this book was the art. It's actually quite good! And, spectacularly, it was done by a 17-year-old named Kylie Yoshida. Could you imagine how much her art will improve with time?
The art isn't perfect, but it is colorful and lively. It almost reminds us of the old art in Sega Genesis or Sierra game cutscenes. If you were around back then, then you know what we mean. If you weren't, then use Google or YouTube.
The writing leaves a little to be desired, not just for the sake of establishing characters and plot, but also in just being appealing in general. Each sentence is double-spaced like it's 1970 and we're using typewriters. This is fine for essays, articles, and even longer books, but it's an eyesore with huge blocks of text with a huge font size.
Secondly, there are no gaps between bits of dialogue. For example, after Nurse Florence says something, Jean replies in the exact same paragraph and in the exact same block of text. That could really be fixed without much effort.
This book and this series have ENORMOUS potential, and we love and admire what they're trying to accomplish. This book does have its weaknesses. First of all, it flies by without establishing characters or plot. We are immediately introduced to Condi, Jean, and Sonia without really getting to know who they are (beyond being students) and what sets them apart from each other. Their dialogue and their names are almost interchangeable. Perhaps this is the fault of just not having read the earlier books in the series, but the truth of the matter is that most readers will only read one book in a series. You have one shot to make the best impression possible.
The other thing that's a little bothersome is that there isn't a clear plot. There's no real reason (beside just being curious) for the students wanting to learn about growth hormone. How much more interesting would it have been if Condi were getting into working out and was wondering why his voice is getting deeper and his arms are getting bigger? What if he were wondering why he's experiencing cramps in his calves at night or why he's so much taller than the girls now? Wouldn't that be so much more natural and understandable then a character just going up to a random nurse character and being like, “NURSE, HOW DO I GET HUUUGE?!”
Remember, characters are only as good as their motivations. Motivations make the character. When characters are just talking heads or mouthpieces for the author, it can seem dry, flat, and unnatural. Yes, you want to teach, but you also need some kind of coherent story. There needs to be a point.
Now, we're happy that this book encourages young people to be curious about science. We're over the moon that this book encourages kids to go to school and to pursue higher education, particularly in the medical field. These are things that are near and dear to our hearts. Some of us have a medical or healthcare background, so we get it. Some of us are educators. This clicks with us.
You can check this out on Amazon!
Score: 88/100 (8.8 out of 10)
Blood Relations is an erotic vampire-romance novel by Glenn Stevens.
It doubles as a sort of sci-fi/medical-thriller story about finding a panacea and the figurative fountain of youth. Philosophically, it also covers many of the moral and ethical dilemmas of pursuing this technological “good” by any means possible, sacrificing lives and health for the supposed benefit of humanity.
This book is like Twilight meets E.T. with a little bit of Frankenstein and Trigun mixed in there.
We thought we'd encountered some strange books this season including Machine Divine by Derek Paul and Macleish Sq. by Dennis Must, but this one comes very close to taking the cake. This book is rather bizarre, for better or for worse.
What's incredible is that, despite the fact that we disliked the first third (200 pages) of this book, it really grew on us over time. Part of the problem with the first third is that, like Sinful Duty by Philip Burbank Pallette, it bombards you with sex and sexual activities before you're really ready for it—or before it feels earned. These things in a story should feel earned. There should be a progression. That's why you get the analogy about first base, second base, third base, and home plate. Instead, the book and the characters just seem to pounce on each other constantly. Many times when Eros (the main protagonist) meets a woman, he just gets turned on by their throat and goes at them. It's usually only after a feeding or two that he gets to know them on a more personal level. It just seems like it skips a step. Wouldn't you want to get personal before you get intimate? This isn't a brothel. These aren't prostitutes.... right?
However, this book does come across as like a harem story, sort of like a dating sim. Women are constantly throwing themselves at Eros, sometimes in machine-gun fashion.
Let's talk a bit about the plot while we're at it, since it kinda ties into all of that. So, the title of the book (Blood Relations) is actually a clever pun for how this book goes. This isn't a book about family relations or anything like that. This book follows Eros, a vampire, throughout his various relationships with women over the centuries including Camillia, Jessica, Linda, Christine, and Laurie.
Eros has lived a long and storied life. Like Linda tells him, “I don't believe Florida has always been your home.”
Eros is not just a vampire, he's some sort of alien vampire whose bite/venom has a rare gift: the ability to heal those who are inflicted by it. The problem is that, well, they have to be inflicted by it.
In his relationship with Camillia in Medieval Romania, both Eros and Camillia suffer from the superstitions of the time. In fact, Camillia is treated brutally and even scourged when Eros's bite causes her to have visions and hear voices akin to demonic possession.
That's right, not only does Eros's bite heal wounds, it also gives you precognition and telepathic/psychic powers. It even allows you to astral project at times. Now, this kinda falls apart when you realize that—if Eros really had these powers the whole time—he wouldn't have been surprised by the things that Linda, for example, decides. He wouldn't have been surprised by anything that happens. However, he is. He's constantly surprised the actions and decisions of people. He's constantly confused.
It's also a little strange that a person who has been around for centuries doesn't seem much wiser or any more sophisticated than a 22-year-old college student. In fact, there are times when he's a bit dopey and even immature. Like, you have to be kidding that a guy who has this much relationship experience would be this heartbroken over a breakup this late in his life.
Linda, despite being a “best friend” and partner to Eros for a large portion of this book, is arguably the main villain of this book. You could make the argument that she's more of an anti-hero or anti-villain. Linda isn't evil, but like Dr. Frankenstein, she is carried away with her research. She views Eros and his venom as a sort of panacea, potentially able to cure cancers, regrow limbs, keep you from gaining weight (wait a minute... what?), and never get sick. She looks to create “super healing blood” from mixing his venom with the blood of hosts to accomplish these things.
It's literally MAD SCIENCE!
As you might expect, her research and experiments come with an enormous amount of risk. For instance, it turns out that—surprise, surprise—Eros's bite can not only kill someone by draining their blood, but it can also turn someone into a vampire... and also gay.
Seriously, we're not kidding! This book is either unintentionally or intentionally funny. We were spinning in our chairs laughing about this stuff.
We get lines like:
“I think it's the venom. I think it turned me into a lesbian...”
“...the minute I bite her I turn her into a lesbian”
“More Oxytocin means more lesbian, right?”
“Some of the women turn more lesbian.”
Bruuuuh! We don't think that's how that works at all.
The book takes the approach that women have higher levels of the hormone Oxytocin which attracts Eros to want to bite them... that and when they hang upside down and the blood rushes to their faces and turns them red.
Ok... No kink shaming.
However, this Oxytocin also interacts with Eros's venom, causing women to supposedly become gay. It is incredibly, unbelievably strange, though admittedly very funny.
Let's get back to some of the sexual stuff because it's also very over-the-top and funny. You know like when there's a scene in a movie and it's very obvious that it's only there as fan service? Well 80-90% of this book is fan service.
It's so blatant and over-the-top.
There is constant talk about “mind sex,” how “each orgasm is many times more explosive as the one before it,” how you can have “[d]ozens of orgasms at the same time,” and how valuable sex juices are harvested via “intense virtual reality sex.”
Probably the funniest line in the book is:
“...the woman screams so loud during orgasm the entire floor claps when it's over.”
Anyone who has had an obnoxiously-loud, sexually-active neighbor can relate.
Now, Eros as a character is constantly painted as being some sort of angel. He's even referred to as an “angel” from time to time. However, he's actually quite sinister. He literally has blood on his hands and he lies about it all the time. For example, he claims that he doesn't kill and that it isn't in his nature. However, we know that he drank Camillia's mother to death and murdered Jessica's husband out of revenge.
His drives and urges are constantly excused in one way or another. However, he verges into or crosses over the line of assault and even sexual assault. For example, after Linda has repeatedly told him to just stay friends, Eros constantly tries to force himself on her, even pinning her with his weight against a wall at one point.
The other thing that's worrisome about this book is that it seems to encourage a sort of Stockholm syndrome and sadomasochism. Most of the women that Eros bites (i.e. assaults) then become ravenous in their attraction to him and then become dependent on him for continued pleasure. The whole process of feeding is treated like an “ok” thing that the women like and enjoy. At least he tries to heal them afterward, right? Keep in mind: he's literally inflicting pain and drawing the blood of these women. It is, in essence, violence. Should we be encouraging women and girls to view violence toward them as a form of love and affection?
We constantly get in the minds of these women while they're being fed on, and at one time the woman feels like she's dying and desperately tries to ask Eros to stop, but can't. That scene and scenes like it have a very rapey vibe that doesn't quite sit well with us.
Though the writing is decent, the formatting could use some work. Case in point: there are no indentations at the start of paragraphs or lines of dialogue.
One last thing we didn't quite like about this book is that it's SO NEEDLESSLY LONG! It's over 600 pages long. Some books warrant being long. Those books involve epic, world-bending plots that involve multiple different character arcs and a long, involved story. This story and its characters just don't seem to justify the page length. It's similar to what we felt about Fifty-Three Tuesdays by GK Nakata. A romance doesn't need to take 600 pages to develop. Even near the end of the book, new problems kept being introduced when the book should've been winding down.
With all that said, this book made us laugh A LOT. It also had some interesting characters like Eros himself, Linda the mad scientist, the loving Laurie, and Christine (the lesbian who becomes “more lesbian” and runs for Governor of Florida because Eros told her to, yes that happened). We actually enjoyed this book in a sort of sick, twisted way.
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 95/100 (9.5 out of 10)
More Than Just a Pretty Space is an excellent, heartfelt feng shui book by Reiko Gomez, a feng shui practitioner of over two decades!
The thing we love about this book is just how practical it is! Yes, there's some spiritual-energy-ish stuff. Yes, there's some mystical esoteric stuff. But, even if you're a straight-up atheist or someone very “grounded,” you can still come away from this book with a lot of information and, more importantly, INSPIRATION!
This book INSPIRED us to clean.
This book INSPIRED us to organize.
This book INSPIRED us to get up off the couch or out of bed and ACTUALLY FIX OUR $^%*@.
Let's pull the curtains back a little bit: the offices and storage spaces used for the Outstanding Creator Awards—our medals, stationary, books, and documents—are quite cluttered. We have about 2-3 feet of walking space in between some of these places. And, yes, we generally know where things are, but those things are usually buried under layers of other things (or behind layers of other things). That just isn't good. It's not conductive to productivity and positivity. It's frustrating to lose things or have to dig through piles of stuff just to find the stuff you're looking for.
What's amazing about this book is that, while being very personal sometimes, it's also very practical. Everything is laid out in a step-by-step manner. Also, everything has a purpose. One of the main takeaways is that the changes you make to your living/office space need to reflect YOU—YOUR goals and YOUR personality. That's actually a bit different from some feng shui books which insist on your living space being a certain way.
Yes, there are reoccurring recommendations like decluttering and livening/brightening things, but there are also exceptions. For example, the author talks about having an artist friend who needed some clutter on their desk and on their walls for inspiration for their creativity. This actually makes sense for some people. For example, think about the famous picture of Einstein's desk, the desk of the man who changed scientific understanding forever through his unparalleled ability to think outside the box.
Another aspect of this book that really spoke to us was the idea of moving on from toxic and negative things. For example, the author talks about what happens to a living space after someone toxic or negative leaves it (i.e. after a divorce or breakup). What do you do with a space like that? Do you cling to it? Make a shrine to your dead relationship? Or should you change it, take out the trash, and rebuild it? Or do you move on from it?
The author provides so many suggestions and options for the reader. It's really encouraging!
Check this out on Amazon!
Score: 88/100 (8.8 out of 10)
Diaspora might best be described as a coming-of-age, magical-realism novel by J.P. Ozuna. The primary “magical powers” on display take the form of telepathy and teleportation.
This novel follows two friends, Camila and Gabriella (“Gaby”), practically sisters in all but blood.
Indeed, their friendship is made of steel, and their connection is practically psychic. Heck, it IS psychic. The sisters, who it turns out are related to some magical royal people from the Dominican Republic in Africa, have telepathic powers. This gives them the ability to see each other's thoughts and even communicate without verbally/physically speaking. Sweet!
However, the primary power that they discover they have is teleportation, something they attempt to take full advantage of, for better or for worse. What would you do with that power? Well, Camila and Gaby use their powers to travel to locations in Europe (and also America)! Along the way, they get into a lot of trouble and tight situations. They witness someone being kidnapped, someone being threatened with death, and even a burglary at the Vatican, one of the book's key events.
Now, here's the thing... this book is written decently, the two main protagonists are a good duo, and there's tremendous potential in playing with the idea of teleporting anywhere you want. The problem is, the pieces just don't seem to fit in this puzzle. The plot is all over the place. In fact, what is the plot?
Growing up? Coming of age? The power of friendship? Those are themes.
This book doesn't seem to have a coherent plot. Instead, it literally skips from thing to thing and place to place. It seems jumbled and discombobulated, like the instruments in a symphony are all playing at random times.
Again, the pieces are all there to craft a great story, they're just not put together very well.
Let's start with the closest thing to a plot that this book has: the two girls growing up and realizing things. Do they really grow up over the course of the book though?
Throughout the book, both girls are incredibly immature and flaky.
Even their mother-figure (the narrator) says that “Those two are like toddlers... they throw tantrums.”
Let's look at this childish dialogue that the two girls have:
“See you later, alligator”
“In a while, crocodile”
Are they like 2 years old?
Another thing about this book that absolutely had us laughing were the two love interests: Thiago and Paulo. What's hilarious about these two is that they're practically interchangeable and they always occur together for some reason, like they've been locked in a closet together until the girls or the story needs them to show up for whatever reason. The closest literary comparison we have for them is the duo of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Shakespeare's Hamlet--two completely interchangeable, blank-slate characters who are just... THERE. They're just two dudes who hang out being two dudes and doing stuff that two dudes would do.
Seriously! There's at least one scene when the two girls just randomly come into the room and Thiago and Paulo are just THERE waiting for them. We assumed they were playing a video game or watching a movie or something, but it is kinda weird that the two boyfriends of the main characters just happen to be waiting together at Gaby & Camila's earliest convenience. Like, do they not have lives? Do they have hobbies? Do they have other things they like to do other than to just wait on their girls? They probably do and it was probably mentioned, but it was definitely an afterthought. It is seriously hilarious how flat, two-dimensional, and unimportant Thiago and Paulo are 99.9% of the time.
The dialogue regarding the boys and girls consists of things like:
“Thank you, my love. You're hot.”
“Let's spend the night with our handsome, hot, and very sexy boyfriends”
Seriously, that's all that these two guys are for 99.9% of the book: handsome, hot, and very sexy boyfriends. They're literally treated like objects or possessions. They're just there to sit and stand around looking hot and sexy.
The only time they actually seem to be significant is when one of them decides to go to college without one of the girls, then there's this whole long-distance relationship angle/sub-plot that is supposed to show that the girl is secure enough to move on without her love. Ok... but... what about the dude who got kidnapped? The dude who was about to be murdered? What about the stuff that got stolen from the Vatican? What about Agent Jackson, the FBI agent that the girls were such needless jerks to? What about Africa, the Dominican Republic, and slavery? What happened to that whole angle? It's like this book start stuff just to swiftly drop them. Honestly, as readers of many, many books it was frustrating.
The other thing that's bizarre is that the narrator tries to shoehorn in some life/learning lessons. Then, for really no apparent reason, one of the girls goes on a tirade about how women are “our own worst enemy” and just starts ranting about the sexes—raging against men and women alike. What?! Where is this even coming from? What does this have to do with the stuff being stolen at the Vatican or the multiple violent crimes they witnessed?
Where does that fit with the whole idea that Christians were vicious too, so why should our religion be seen as less? thing that the narrator made such a big deal about in the introduction? Where does that fit with the whole thing about Africans being taken on slave ships from their homes and forced into labor? Where does that fit with the whole thing about the girls being descended from African royalty that went to war and ended up slaughtering each other? None of that quite fits what Camila is complaining about. Camila is complaining about breaking up with a boy—a boy who apparently was good to her and still loved her—and about how women act to make boys happy. How is that equivalent to people being tortured, killed, and enslaved by mostly-men in those other scenarios? It's not. It's just... one thing that was thrown at the wall with the hope of sticking, and it didn't.
It's one thing to discuss an issue in the book that is near and dear to the author's heart. That's normal. However, you need to do it in a way that makes sense in the story. A character suddenly jumping to the conclusion that men and women (about 99.7% of the human population) suck just seems so random and out of place.
It all seems so scattered, fractured, and disjointed. It's like it was written by four different people who had four different ideas of how the story should be.
The other thing that just doesn't fit at all is the whole “Episode” chapter-naming convention. It doesn't fit because 1. This isn't a TV show, and 2. If it were a TV show, each actual episode would have to end with a cliffhanger or a climax. Most of these episodes just consist of the girls doing stuff, the boys sticking around like flies stuck to fly paper; finding some trouble, getting away, being mean to authorities who are just trying to help, and then moving on to the next “international teleport.”
This book—at its core—is supposed to be fun. It IS fun, to an extent. It's supposed to be about two young adults becoming adults. It really could've appealed to a YA audience. Unfortunately, Gaby swears in at least half of her dialogue including nearly two-dozen F-bombs. It's a bummer. We're not prudish about foul language.
One of our favorite authors, Frederick Douglas Reynolds, uses about four-dozen "MFers” in all of his books. However, it fits. It fits because Frederick and his characters are cops who are caught in life-of-death situations constantly. They don't have superpowers. They don't have the ability to just wisp themselves away from trouble or danger. And some of those characters/figures in those books have drug problems and mental health issues.
Gaby has no excuse to single-handedly elevate this novel to a mature or R rating. This isn't a story or a plot with character who warrant that kind of language. If Gaby was someone who was abused or severely mistreated her whole life, then maybe we'd understand. If Gaby was a professional fighter or a veteran of a war, maybe we'd understand. If Gaby was a refugee from a war-torn country or someone who narrowly escaped a genocide, then we'd understand. But, quite frankly, Gaby and Camila both come across as brats who live relatively carefree lives. Seriously! They can go out and travel all over the world at will. They have all the freedom and power to do it. They have hot, sexy boyfriends just waiting for them to arrive like drones. Why is Gaby cussing and swearing up a storm? Why is Camila ranting and raving about how much men and women suck? It seriously does not fit the tone of the book.
If there's one saving grace, it's Agent Jackson. (By the way, it was funny that there was an Agent Smith in here, but anyway...) Agent Jackson is a real protagonist. She is the agent who is trying to get to the bottom of all of these freak crimes occurring around the world and with the girls as the common denominators. However, all of the girls/women in the book treat her like garbage, even when they know they've been lying to her and that she has every right to be suspicious. It is unfortunate because Agent Jackson is a rather heroic character who is never given her due or credit by the other characters. Our favorite moment in the book is probably when the girls wind up in her house. It's both tense and funny.
All in all, this book has potential, and you might really enjoy it.
Check it out on Amazon!
90/100 (9.0 out of 10)
Song of the Sea by Meredith Burton is a fantastical novel with very Disney-esque vibes. It seems especially inspired by Disney's The Little Mermaid, although it also has nuances of Pocahontas and Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet as well.
As you can imagine with those comparisons, the book follows a coming-of-age mermaid named Aria who is caught in the middle of a conflict between feuding factions—the humans and the Mer people. Unlike in The Little Mermaid, Mer people aren't just mythical creatures, they're actually widely-known and accepted as real by the humans.
Due to the Treaty of Separation between King Agrippa (of the Mer people) and King Asa (of the humans), humans and Mer people cannot interact and inhabit the same spaces. They are segregated in a sense. It's quite tragic.
Not only does this take political affect, apparently it also has a magical aspect to it too. The two peoples are seemingly separated by some kind of blood-magic/blood oath so that they can never mix.
As you might expect, this all goes out the window when Princess Aria (a mermaid) rescues a human prince named Reginald from drowning in the midst of a freak storm at sea.
Reginald has recently suffered a tragedy, the death of his sister in a similar sea storm. Her funeral at sea—absent of a body—is one of the book's first heavy, emotional scenes.
The Romeo & Juliet-esque relationship between Aria and Reginald forms the crux of the story. However, they're not the only significant actors.
Two of the other central characters are Glissando, Aria's highly-esteemed suitor, and Barcarole, Reginald's loyal caretaker/servant.
Both of these characters are so much more than they initially seem. Let's start with Barcarole. When you first meet him, he's a very submissive, subservient person who is constantly checking on and catering to Reginald, so much so that Reginald becomes annoyed with him frequently. Barcarole, however, is more than a servant. He is actually family to Reginald—a prince in his own right (though further in the line of succession) and Reginald's uncle.
Glissando is also so much more than he initially seems. When you first meet him, he is incredibly kind, courteous, and proper. However, he has a darker side, as you might expect. He also has ulterior motives. Strangely, though he is a type of villain, he's not pure evil. In fact, he is more like a Shakespearean character—a tragic character. Glissando knows first-hand how horrible and cruel the humans can be. His family was personally affected by their evil. In a sense, Glissando is a victim of the tension between the two groups just as much as Aria and Reginald are.
Glissando is also the third person in the love-triangle with the main protagonists. What's fascinating is that there are times when he seems like a legitimate friend who cares about Aria, seemingly following her just to look after her despite his hatred and distrust for humans.
Even the fact that he wants to kill humans surprisingly doesn't come from a place of evil. He wants to do it because he wants to win the war. It's actually not that much different from an American soldier in World War II wanting to kill all of the opposing force.
In a lot of ways, Glissando is the most interesting character in the book. He is the one with the deepest backstory.
Through the story, we also learn more about both royal families. The backstory to King Omri is particularly interesting.
If you love mermaid tales, this is one that might whet your appetite.
Check it out on Amazon!
Score: 75/100 (7.5 out of 10)
This has to be one of the strangest books we've ever read. However, to its credit, it does take a creative, imaginative, and fun approach to its mode of storytelling.
But... where do we begin? First of all, all of the characters in this book are actually animal/pet rescues that the author has been involved in saving. These range from birds like Fritzi, dogs like Sophie, squirrels like Treedom, cats like Po, and goats like Mr. Beard.
Apparently, from what we gather, they're all given roles in a theatrical/play retelling of The Legend of Sleep Hollow (the classic story featuring Ichibald Crane and the headless horseman). Confusing the matter, the animals keep talking about another play they've apparently tried to reenact called Finding Bigfoot, which they apparently give up on a quarter of the way through.
There's a tremendous amount of confusion on our end concerning who is who and what each animal/character is supposed to be saying or trying to accomplish. For example, one of the characters happens to be a dog named Bruce Springsteen. However, the character apparently wants to play an in-play character named Brom Bones. Brom Bones features rather prominently and pops up throughout the story. But here's the thing... Bruce Springsteen is a famous singer. So, we thought that the singer was in this book for some reason and wanted a role in the play. Characters aren't really properly introduced. Yes, you get a picture, name, and role of what character the character is supposed to be playing, but that—believe it or not—only seems to add to the confusion.
Here's the thing: we don't know these animals as well as the author does. The author clearly knows each and every one by name, remembering them by heart. We don't have that benefit as readers. This is similar to whenever Domenic Melillo tries to refer to his family and his family history in his books. We don't know his family as well as he does. We didn't live with them, talk to them, or hang out with them. Similarly, in this book, we don't know the animals like the author does. This is our first time ever seeing or hearing about them, and we simply can't be expected to remember each and every one by name.
For example, the animal characters are constantly referred to by their name in tags. However, we don't know what kind of animal they are most of the time without having to refer to a picture before or after the chapter.
A much more effective thing would have been to write this story like a proper story—in prose rather than in script form. That way, the author could've used descriptions and adjectives in their tags.
For example, to paraphrase, instead of:
Fritzi: “I'll be Ichabold”
We could've gotten:
“I'll be Ichabold,” said Fritzi, the bird, the leader of the band.
Imagine if we just listed random names of people we knew and expected you to follow all of their dialogue: Tenille, Samson, Greg, Mallory, Vanessa, Hillary, Thomas.
A lot of the appeal of this story comes from the animals themselves, who are prominently featured in adorable photos, often action-shots of them playing and having a good time. For a pet and/or animal-lover, this book might be right up your alley. Another cute thing about this book is the banter between the animals. For example, when Fritzi says he wants to be Ichabold, the other animals try to nicely tell him that he's too short and fat, so doesn't fit the role. Instead of saying he's “fat” they instead tell him that he's “stout.”
This is actually quite cute and humorous.
This book has potential to be good or even great, but it need someone to work with the author to make it into a coherent narrative. It needs to stop skipping from topic to topic and character to character. It needs focus. It need cohesion.
What do we mean by cohesion? Well, the scenes need to mesh and work together. The transitions need to be smooth. So often in this book, it was like we were reading 20 different stories about 50 different animals, and we kinda were.
Now, we get it. We've worked at pet stores. We've taken care of animals, pets, and even rambunctious kids. They all have personalities. They all have needs. They all do their own special, unique things. They all act in their own special, unique ways. The thing is, it is all supposed to come together in a coherent narrative.
Speaking of a coherent narrative, this book also needs some minor formatting fixes to make it readable. For example, every single line of dialogue is single-spaced and mashed right up into the line of dialogue above it. The only way to tell that a new line of dialogue has started is that the character's name is in ALL-CAPS.
With some work, this book could be something fantastic.
Check it out on Amazon!