Will on the Inside by Andrew Eliopulos


Will on the Inside by Andrew Eliopulos
Publisher: Quill Tree Books
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Inspirational, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

After dedicated soccer player Will is sidelined from the season—and his friend group—due to complications from his newly diagnosed Crohn’s disease, he finds himself figuring out who he really is on the inside in this heartfelt and thoughtful middle grade novel that’s perfect for readers who love books by Maulik Pancholy and Christine Day.

Will loves playing center midfield on his middle school soccer team. This year, though, Will hasn’t felt like himself; his stomach has been bothering him, and he has no energy at all. When his new doctor diagnoses him with Crohn’s disease, Will hopes that means he’ll start feeling better soon and he can get back to playing with his team before the season ends.

But Will’s new medicines come with all kinds of side effects, Forced to sit out afternoon practice, Will finds himself hanging out with a kid at school, Griffin. This could be a real problem, seeing as Griffin just asked Will’s best friend to the spring dance. As in, guy friend. What would Will’s teammates say if they knew the whole story? Not to mention Will’s friends at church.

With all these changes happening faster than he can process them, Will knows that he has a lot to figure out about who he really is on the inside.

Andrew Eliopulos’s novel is a memorable, affecting story that will have wide appeal.

Growing up isn’t always easy.

What an achingly realistic depiction of middle school angst! Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that explored how quickly things can change for kids that age. Will’s friendship group was evolving just as rapidly as his relationships with his parents and older sister were. No sooner did he think he had everything figured out than another growing pain would appear as he or someone around him tested the boundaries of what people their age should say or do. It was so interesting to see how Will showed glimpses of his younger, more playful self in some scenes and bursts of maturity in others. The author captured the preteen years wonderfully there.

I would have loved to see more attention paid to the dietary aspect of Crohn’s disease. When I was Will’s age, I was diagnosed with a different illness that includes food restrictions and know how difficult it can be for a kid to suddenly not be able to eat all sorts of dishes their friends and family members can still enjoy. Food plays such a major role in socialization and bonding that it can be painfully isolating to be left out of those rituals, especially if it’s due to something completely out of your control. Had Will’s food restrictions and his thoughts about what he could and couldn’t eat been given more attention, I would have chosen a full five-star rating.

This was one of the first, if not the very first, books I’ve ever read that include both inspirational and LGBTQ+ themes. While the main storyline was focused on Will’s difficult adjustment to his diagnosis and his struggles as a young athlete with a life-threatening illness, I enjoyed seeing how his faith and his questions about his sexual orientation shaped his life as well. People’s identities can be complex sometimes, and it was refreshing to see how much nuance was included every time these topics came up. There was no preachiness to be found anywhere, only honest questions about Will’s relationships with God and the people around him.

Will on the Inside was a hopeful, encouraging, and dare I say inspiring read.

The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner


The Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Patterns of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner
Publisher: Perennial Library
Genre: Non-Fiction, Self-Help
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

The renowned classic and New York Times bestseller that has transformed the lives of millions of readers, dramatically changing how women and men view relationships.

Anger is something we feel. It exists for a reason and always deserves our respect and attention. We all have a right to everything we feel—and certainly our anger is no exception.

“Anger is a signal and one worth listening to,” writes Dr. Harriet Lerner in her renowned classic that has transformed the lives of millions of readers. While anger deserves our attention and respect, women still learn to silence our anger, to deny it entirely, or to vent it in a way that leaves us feeling helpless and powerless. In this engaging and eminently wise book, Dr. Lerner teaches both women and men to identify the true sources of anger and to use it as a powerful vehicle for creating lasting change.

For decades, this book has helped millions of readers learn how to turn their anger into a constructive force for reshaping their lives. With a new introduction by the author, The Dance of Anger is ready to lead the next generation.

Want to tackle your anger and be a better listener? Then this book is for you.

I picked up this book because I went on a self-help binge and wanted tips as to how to manage my anger better as well as be a better listener. This book did help with that. I liked that the author encourages the reader to be their own self. Be yourself. That’s huge. Many people disappear into relationships or into what they have with the other person, so this bit of information did help. In some ways, this book is a bit sexist, but it’s also empowering. Women are taught to say no, taught to not want things and this book shows that that doesn’t have to be the case. I liked the tips and suggestions. One doesn’t have to suffer in silence and can stand up for themselves.

If you’re wanting to be a better listener, then give this book a try. You’ll learn a lot. It’ll also give you tips about dealing with anger. Give it a chance.

1956 Love & Revolution by J.A. Boulet


1956 Love & Revolution by J.A. Boulet
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Rose

What would you do for your country?

In 1955, a group of uncommon people meet by chance. During the final year of Rákosi’s iron fist rule, Imre Nagy’s reforms are repealed, plunging Hungary back into economic ruin.

A university student, a cleaner, a Hungarian soldier and several others find themselves drawn toward each other as their love for their country is tested. In the fall of 1956, political strife deepens as the students begin demanding reform.

How far will they go to save Hungary?

Well-researched, politically charged and fast-paced, 1956 Love & Revolution will lure you into the lives of everyday Hungarians who risked everything for their country.

I didn’t know a lot about went on in Hungary during this time period, but reading this book made me feel like I was right there. The characters in this book came alive for me – they are fully formed, with pasts, with foibles, with imperfections. My heart broke for Elona as she dealt with her husband and the way he treated her.

And, it’s not just the characters, but the setting at well. I felt like I was right there, picturing everything.  The juxtaposition of the changes the country is going through and the changes and growth that the main characters are going through gives a richness to the story.

During the story, there is heartbreak, pain, sorrow, and yet still, by the end, hope prevails. And, isn’t that what we all want from a good book?

Thank you, Ms. Boulet, for introducing me to a part of history I didn’t know much about and characters I’ll remember for a long time.

 

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Zen and the Art of Brazilian Sticky (& other roofing tales) by Gennita Low


Zen and the Art of Brazilian Sticky (& other roofing tales) by Gennita Low
Publisher: GLow World
Genre: Contemporary, Humor, Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Life as a roofer is hard work. Endless hours beneath a blazing sun, pounding rain, howling wind and even the occasional hurricane (you’d be surprised at the calls during a hurricane).

But there are lots of laughs and moments of Zen if you spend time with Gennita’s cast and crew. There is nothing like watching life through the eyes of a female roofer who writes romance books, a bunch of “crapenters,” a grumpy Airborne Ranger Vietnam Vet, and a stucco man affectionately dubbed “the Brazilian Sticky Man” with a flair for creative renaming of just about everything under the sun. In fact, his “Semen Maker” is probably the star of the show, with its Zen way of giving meaning to daily shenanigans.

How a few mispronounced words, a little laughter and friends can make the day!

First, I have to note that the author has done work as a roofer. Really. She’s a tiny woman, but I can imagine her holding her own on a roof. That said, this book is a collection of stories loosely based on her time roofing.

This was a funny book. Hands down. I was told to get it because I’d laugh out loud. Normally, I’m not much for bursting out laughing while reading, but with this book, I did. Jenn is the head of the roofing crew and she works with the Brazilian stucco man. BSM as she refers to him, has a tendency to change words. His stucco is his sticky and his cement mixer is his semen maker. I hadn’t thought there could be that many ways to mess up those words and make the conversation veer right into the dirty, but it’s possible. I loved the stories and could actually see most of them happening.

The writing flowed well because it felt like I was reading a story by a friend or at least a conversation with a friend. I won’t give too much away, but if you’re in the mood to laugh, then this is the book for you. Give it a try.

Immortal Ink: A Tattoo Coloring Book by Tania Maia (Author), El Rose (Author), François Gautier (Author)

Immortal Ink: A Tattoo Coloring Book by Tania Maia (Author), El Rose (Author), François Gautier (Author)
Publisher: Plume
Genre: Art, Non-Fiction, Coloring Book
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

More than just a coloring book, Immortal Ink is a true celebration of tattoo art.

Featuring 45 incredible designs from talented tattoo artists, each illustration is as inspiring as it is fun to color. With artwork in eight different styles including Americana, Japanese, blackwork, and steampunk, each daring design offers you the opportunity to unleash your own creativity as you add your choice of stylish color. The accompanying text delves into the history and ethos of each genre and explores the rich and fascinating symbolism behind individual elements used in every spectacular piece.

Beautiful and distinctive, Immortal Ink will celebrate an art form that has captivated us for generations.

A coloring book for adults that’s a wonderful step into the world of tattooing and what’s behind the design.

I hadn’t taken up the fun of coloring in adult coloring books until the last few years. Now I see what the excitement is all about. The art in this book is tattoo art, which is already fantastic, but now it’s up to the person with the colored pencils to add the pop of color. I liked that. I also liked that there’s a description with each design that’s not just a simplistic line about what the image is, but why the art is popular and what it symbolizes. That’s fascinating.

If you’re looking for a coloring book with not only images, but education and a great sense of fantasy, then this is the coloring book for you. Check it out!

Space Ships & Other Trips by Raven Oak


Space Ships & Other Trips by Raven Oak
Publisher: Grey Sun Press
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Part II of this debut collection by multi-award-winning author and artist Raven Oak brings together speculative fiction stories from the past ten years of her career, ranging from space adventures with a dash of mystery and other near-future tales to post-apocalyptic stories and deep dives into the mind.

You’ll find closed-ship mysteries, foul-acting apps, talking cats, retail hell, and hacked programs in these ELEVEN speculative fiction pieces. Space Ships & Other Trips contains FIVE never-before seen stories for your enjoyment, including a tie-in story from Jeff Sturgeon’s The Last Cities of Earth universe.

STORIES INCLUDED: The Loss of Luna, Hungry, Mouth, Only a Bird, Q-Be, Hands, Ol’ St. Nick, Drip, Level Up, Scout’s Honor, and D.E.A.T.H.

How much hope do you have for the future?

“Only a Bird” explored what happened after some students found an injured bird outside of their classroom. The empathy they had for that creature was beautiful. I especially enjoyed their conversations that compared it to the robotic birds that had just begun to be released into the wild. This was a sweet and gentle story that could fit into so many different genres.

There were several stories in this collection that I thought would have been better with more development. “Drip” was one of them. As intrigued as I was by the protagonist’s struggle with insomnia, I had a lot of unanswered questions about the world they lived in. For example, I would have liked to know what was going on with all of the out-of-control fires they were worrying about as they tried to go to sleep. Was this an unusual portion of daily life in their world or was it something frightening that ordinary people had no choice but to deal with regularly? These sorts of questions about the world building kept popping up for me and influenced the rating I ended up choosing.

To be perfectly honest with all of you, eating out of a dumpster isn’t something I ever expect to read about in the science fiction genre. The fact that “Level Up” began with a scene about the main character doing this intrigued me, especially once she was interrupted a moment later just as she was about to enjoy an English muffin. There are so many plot twists I wish I could dive into, but this is one of those tales that works best for readers who know as little as possible about what is to come. What I can say is that it was creative and made me want more.

This is the second anthology in a series that does not need to be read in order. Just like with Dragon Springs & Other Things, be sure to read the author’s notes to learn about where her ideas came from!

Space Ships & Other Trips was full of surprises.

National Geographic Kids Everything Mythology: Begin Your Quest for Facts, Photos, and Fun Fit for Gods and Goddesses by Blake Hoena


National Geographic Kids Everything Mythology: Begin Your Quest for Facts, Photos, and Fun Fit for Gods and Goddesses by Blake Hoena
Publisher: National Geographic
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Childrens (10+ yrs), Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

National Geographic Everything Mythology is jam packed with fascinating facts and awe-inspiring imagery that brings your favorite fierce mythological heroes to life, introducing kids to gods of ancient worlds, including Greek, Norse, Chinese, American Indian, African cultures, and more. Packed with facts, colorful illustrations, and infused with humor, this fun journey through ancient lore will keep kids fascinated with every turn of the page.

Want to know something about mythology in bites and bits? Then this is the book for you!

I picked up this book because of the impressive art on the front. Who doesn’t like Poseidon? He drew me in, but the text and the storytelling kept me riveted. I blew right through the book and couldn’t get enough. The author doesn’t hit the high points mythology, but also includes more inclusive myths and characters, which I loved. It wasn’t the usual, so every reader will find something new in these pages.

The illustrations and art are fantastic. The factoids are as well. There is a lot to learn in this book. If you’re simply researching mythology, want to start learning about a particular myth or want a point of discussion for you and your reader, then this is the book for you. Check it out!

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson


The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Snowdrop

The bestselling historical fiction novel from Kim Michele Richardson, this is a novel following Cussy Mary, a packhorse librarian and her quest to bring books to the Appalachian community she loves, perfect for readers of William Kent Kreuger and Lisa Wingate. The perfect addition to your next book club!

The hardscrabble folks of Troublesome Creek have to scrap for everything—everything except books, that is. Thanks to Roosevelt’s Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project, Troublesome’s got its very own traveling librarian, Cussy Mary Carter.

Cussy’s not only a book woman, however, she’s also the last of her kind, her skin a shade of blue unlike most anyone else. Not everyone is keen on Cussy’s family or the Library Project, and a Blue is often blamed for any whiff of trouble. If Cussy wants to bring the joy of books to the hill folks, she’s going to have to confront prejudice as old as the Appalachias and suspicion as deep as the holler.

Inspired by the true blue-skinned people of Kentucky and the brave and dedicated Kentucky Pack Horse library service of the 1930s, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is a story of raw courage, fierce strength, and one woman’s belief that books can carry us anywhere—even back home.

What a great story. I can’t find a thing wrong with it. It isn’t all filled with good things. It’s also full of poverty-stricken people and racism that we all hope would go away. Although you might think of these atrocities in the big city, this story is set in the 1930’s right in the heart of the Appalachia’s. Cussy Mary, a 19-year-old young lady, takes care of her father who works in the mines. It’s just the two of them, and they struggle to even keep food on the table.

Cussy Mary takes on a book delivery job. It was The Pack Horse Librarian Project, established as part of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. It was exactly as it sounds…ladies delivering books via horses to people all over the hills and trails. Some of the trails were quite treacherous to travel. Cussy Mary used a sure-footed cantankerous old mule to get to some of the families and people on her route. She had people that could not wait to see her no matter the kind of book she had for them and yet others were afraid of her because she was what people in Kentucky called the “Blues”. Her skin was blue, and the prejudice just as real as any other you are familiar with.

Somehow, I’m sure you can already tell I enjoyed this story. There’s another aspect to this little bit of historical fiction that was very important to me. I kept running to my computer to see if all these things were true, and they were. Roosevelt’s Project, the Pack Horse Librarians, and unfortunately, the poverty and prejudice. What a joy to read an enjoyable story of fiction and soak up all of those facts at the same time. Well-written and great to read.

Do-Over by David T. Wolf


Do-Over by David T. Wolf
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Time-travel, Sci-fi/Fantasy, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

What if you woke up one morning and discovered that you were your preteen self, but with all your present memories intact? What if this alternate science-fiction universe gave you the chance to undo the many things you regretted? To act on those opportunities you missed? What tragedies would you act to prevent? Given the chance, what would you change about your life–and the world?

Among the stories about getting a second chance to do your life—becoming young again—this is one of the good ones. Rick, middle-aged, wakes up to find that he is twelve years old again. Can you imagine this? What things would you do differently? Luckily, Rick remembers things and can make wise decisions.

Rick recalls issues from the 1970s through the first part of the 2000s. He runs into some widely known people and changes not only his own life but that of those who can affect others. He can’t change everything, but what he does have power over brings food for thought, sometimes with a bit of amusement.

The story rolls out in an entertaining way while inspiring readers to think about their own lives. Some things are pleasantly surprising, but others are just…surprising. For example, he marries the same woman, but when his children are born, the unexpected causes Rick to really ponder the situation.

This is a short story written by a talented author that many are sure to enjoy. The author’s voice is just right, and the tale can probably be read in one sitting.

American Arcadia by Laura Scalzo


American Arcadia by Laura Scalzo
Publisher: Regal House Publishing
Genre: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Lavender

New York City, 1985, the scaffolded and torchless Statue of Liberty is under reconstruction, the Twin Towers hum with money, and the clubs pulse with music. Young Wall Streeter, Mina Berg, and her roommate, Chry Risk, strike up friendships with the volatile Danny Nyro and easygoing Dare Fiore. Mina wants Chry’s family prestige, while Chry only wants to play the bass like Jaco Pastorius. Nyro trades on his father’s notoriety and Dare is keeping secrets. Each of these twenty-somethings attempts to rewrite their origin story as they find themselves knotted in the cross purposes of friendship and love, life and death. Meanwhile, the Sicilian grandmothers on Staten Island are telling tall tales of a fugitive mermaid who lives in the New York Harbor. It’s for you to decide if she’s a monster or a saint. Themes of art, immigration, reproductive rights, AIDS, assault, class, and betrayal simmer beneath a dynamic plot that spans one life-altering year.

The 1980s was a memorable time, with big things turning the world upside down or individual homes. This story, set in 1985, in New York, covers some of those things such as AIDS and friends and family dynamics.

Mina and her friend Chry live their busy lives in this big city, Mina on Wall Street, and Chry as the daughter of a senator, trying to find her own way through music. They befriend a nice guy with a secret and a rich guy whose bold behavior often encourages the others to take chances. Each of them is bathed in mystery. For example, Mina was left to die as a baby but adopted. Will she ever know the truth from where she come?

As these twenty-somethings live day-by-day, having fun and working, they discover things about themselves and others. Not all these things lead to somewhere good. They face tragic realities, and readers are sure to pick up some of these moving moments and feel them as well.

One learns about the culture of the era, the New York of the eighties and what a bustling time it was, in some ways, different that it is today. Questions are often different, but not always. While reading about these friends and their families, one is likely to be entertained. The writing is personal and addictive. Why not check this one out?