Bronchitis is not fun, people, but coming “back to life” afterwards is. I’m recovering from a bout of it. The week before, I nursed my kids through croup, pink eye, and a cold. From recent experience, therefore, I can tell you: coughing up a lung is not good, but regaining energy and rejoining civilization is wonderful. If you’re able to be among people, be thankful. If it’s hard for you to be around them long, don’t, but be glad that you can. And enjoy your energy. . And, if you can’t avoid getting sick, make the best of it and READ! I’ve got a book recommendation for you, in fact. It’s an easy read, one that won’t tax your brain too much, and it’s heartwarming. In fact, it’s romance. Read Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah Eden.
What’s Kiss of a Stranger About?
When Lord Crispin Cavratt thoroughly kisses a random woman in the garden of a country inn, he assumes the encounter will be of no consequence. But, the woman is not only a lady of birth, she’s also the niece of a very large, angry gentlemen. The man—her uncle—claims Crispin compromised his niece beyond redemption. The dismayed young lord has no choice but to marry Miss Catherine Thorndale, who lacks both money and refinement and assumes all men are as vicious as her guardian uncle.
That leaves him trapped between an unwanted marriage and a hasty annulment. The latter would taint his reputation, but it would ruin Catherine’s. And she’s be penniless, as her uncle is an abusive cad who just wants her inheritance and would kick her to the curb.
So, Crispin begins guiding his wife’s transformation from a socially petrified country girl to a lady of society. But then they find out that they get along quite well, which surprises and confuses both of them. They each privately begin to wonder if theirs may become a true marriage of the heart, while putting up indifferent faces in case it doesn’t. But their hopes are dashed when forces conspire to split asunder what fate has granted. Indeed, a battle of wits escalates into a confrontation that might kill more than just their hopes.
Who Would Like Kiss of a Stranger, and Why?
This is obviously a Regency romance, a “chick book,” if you will, so if you’re not into that, don’t get this book! If you do like Regency, romance, or even a little bit of sexual tension, get Kiss of a Stranger. It could have felt contrived or sappy, but the main characters are original enough, and the external dynamics that help their relationship develop unique enough, that it felt charming.
Of course, there’s no swearing or sex, although there is a little bit of violence.
What’s the Deal?
It’s $3.99 on Kindle. (Note: That isn’t an affiliate link. That’s just the best deal I found. I don’t get paid for telling you that. You’re welcome.)
It’s been a tough few months, I tell you. Life has been very interesting, in some ways very good, and some quite bad. I’m finally getting over my insomnia, something I’ve struggled with for years (see this post about what it’s really like to live with it). I’m enjoying my job as a full-time book editor. I have two wonderful boys, even after years of infertility. My kids are healthy and happy, for the most part. I’m healthy. My husband’s physical health is doing better. I have amazing neighbors, friends, and family, on both my side of the family and his, who have been my shoulders to cry on, listening ears, sounding boards, examples, and confidantes. I just got to vote. My family and I have enough to eat each and every day. We live in a comfortable home. I’ll never run out of books to read, or, for that matter, hobbies to enjoy.
But, my marriage is in a whole new phase of hard. My husband has some issues. I have some issues. Together, we have some issues we haven’t been able to resolve, even after 19 years of marriage. We’re both committed to staying together, at least for the sake of our kids, if not also because we’re not yet ready to abandon what he and I have worked so hard for years to build (our family and a stable financial situation) nor on the possibility, however small, that we can figure out how to overcome our problems.
So, I just keep plugging away, taking each day as it comes, praying, helping others, accepting their help, and doing my best. Writing. And reading. Most recently, I finished listening to Children of Blood and Bone Tomi Adeyemi. I have never read a more vibrant, dramatic book than this one. Holy freaking cow. Even through it’s 85 chapters (yes, 85), I was spellbound. This is a book that anyone who likes to be immersed or completely transported by a book should get. It had everything: a unique and well-developed setting, a fast-moving but rational plot, and a magic system that was unique and fundamentally integrated into the characters’ identities and the advancement of the plot. Its three main characters were all fully developed: complex and capable of being understood in both their good and bad choices. It was very interesting, in fact, to observe that most of their choices were based on their reactions to fear. Indeed, fear and all of its variations, as well as the myriad ways that humans react to it, seemed to me to be the ubiquitous theme of this book.
What Was Children of Blood and Bone About?
Before the story of Blood and Bone begins, some traumatic events happened to the characters, and they have lived in fear ever since. Zélie Adebola, one of the three main characters, used to have magic, but it was ripped away from her and her people. She remembers when “Burners” ignited flames, “Tiders” beckoned waves, and her “Reaper” mother summoned forth souls. But then, under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.
Now Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good, in his father’s name. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers and her growing feelings for an enemy.
Who Would Like/Not Like Children of Blood and Bone, and Why?
In Zélie we see those people who react to fear with anger and a desire for revenge. In Amari, the “rogue princess” and second main character, we see those who are shut down and paralyzed by it. And in Inan, the crown prince, we see those who try to channel it into something they think is more virtuous, like duty. In all of them, we see the effects of the never-ending dichotomy that we humans in the real world always seem to be entrapped in: the belief that the only thing that matters is who has the power and who doesn’t. This book, like much of human history, is a reflection of the fact that very few people can see other options, other ways to live outside of that dichotomy. Yet, like Zélie, Amari, and Inan, there are many who desperately want those options, especially when that dichotomy takes away family members and those they love.
In fact, Tomi Adeyemi, the author herself, expresses that desire for an alternative very strongly in the author’s note at the end of the book. In it, she explains that, while the story is fictional, the emotions portrayed by the characters are very real, fueled by shootings of black men by white police. And those emotions are very real, gut-wrenching even. I felt them in the book; I feel them whenever I hear of anyone unarmed getting shot by the police, but especially when I hear of unarmed black men getting shot by white police. But yet, Tomi, like I and many others, stops short of identifying what those options might look like. It’s like she’s as trapped as Zélie, Inan, and Amari, and the rest of us in the real world in this never-ending cycle of pain inflicted and felt, where it’s only too easy to see what or who is causing the pain, but almost impossible to see a concrete way to stop it.
I would even go so far as to say that we’re like Amari, the daughter of the ruthless and vengeful king. She emerges from her paralyzing fear of him to (spoiler alert) strike down its source, only to realize as she’s doing so that the very act makes her just like the source (end spoiler). She wonders, as do I and as should everyone else alive today: is there another way, besides striking down the source, to make everyone see the cycle for what it is and work together to make it stop?
Personally, I think, and as this book (and Dark Breaks the Dawnby Sara B. Larson, and Red Queenby Victoria Aveyard, and many others) shows, the trouble comes with power. We humans appoint people to be in charge so we don’t have to deal with the complexities of managing large groups of different peoples, or the punishment of those who’ve done wrong, and then get mad when those people abuse their power. The truth is that, if we were to analyze all human leaders over time and across the present, we would find that the majority don’t handle it well. And I would be willing to wager that that is caused more by the power structures of human societies than by weaknesses in the men themselves. Very few men or women can handle, I think, any significant power being bestowed on them without becoming hungry for more, greedy, myopic (i.e., focused only on the group of people they’re supposed to protect to the exclusion of others), violent, jaded, or paranoid.
But does this mean that we should excuse the actions of any and all leaders, whether they be kings, presidents, police officers, teachers, parents, etc., if they abuse their powers? Of course not! Maybe the answer—the third option, if you will—is more complex than that. Actually, more complex and more simple. Maybe it requires that each of us take more responsibility for our spheres of influence, helping (or at least proactively trying to understand) our neighbors near and far. Maybe it requires that we get more involved in our communities both off- and on-line, not just being civil but proactively warm-hearted and grateful, like the man in the video below explains. Maybe it requires that we make our power structures more diffuse so that no one person has too much power. Maybe it requires that we love and forgive everyone, as seemingly impossible as that is.
Is all of that too idealistic? Decidedly so. Too difficult to execute? For sure. Necessary for us to stop police brutality (or any kind of abuse), despots, mass public shootings, wars, etc.? Probably. It’s certainly better than the power dichotomy, or the reactions to fear that each of the three main characters of Children of Blood and Bone represents. After all, aren’t we all, quite literally, children of blood and bone ourselves? Isn’t that, at least, a starting point: our shared humanity?
But then, maybe the best reaction—and the example of the solution for us—is found not in any of those characters, but in another one altogether, that of Zane, Zélie’s brother. Though we’re never really allowed into his head, we see, through his actions, that his focus is on protecting his family, and her in particular. That focus seems to make it hard for feelings like bitterness or anger to take root in his soul. Even though he has a hard time understanding Zelie and the choices she makes, which often put her and him in danger, he can’t not protect. He, in my mind, is the hero of the story. If I could be like him, focused on the protection of not only my immediate family but also my whole human family, I think I would have less reason to fear for the future.
So, Should You Buy This Book?
I would go so far as to say it should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand what it feels like to be oppressed (which should be all of us). I’d venture even farther by saying that you’re cheating yourself if you don’t get the Audible version. Bahni Turpin’s rendering of the accents and emotions of the characters makes listening to the book a truly immersive experience, somewhere between a book and movie (just without pictures). Children of Blood and Bone, though set in a fictional world with magic we know nothing of, is an accurate and gut-wrenching reflection of how humans handle power and fear. Hopefully, we can take from it the motivation, the example, and maybe even a magic of our own making to make this real world a better place.
Because I listened to it on audiobook, as opposed to read it on my Kindle, I can’t give you an exact count of instances of profanity, sex, violence, positive themes, or negative ones. I can tell you, however, that there is a lot of violence and death, some swearing, no sex but some kissing, lots of positive themes like familial love, charity, devotion, and a good many negative ones, like revenge, greed for power, killing for sport, etc.
Sometimes it’s hard to put a finger on why one likes or dislikes a book. Other times, it’s easy. For me, as a professional book editor, frequent book beta reader and reviewer, and writer, it’s easier than it might be for some. That doesn’t mean, however, that if I dislike a book, it’s for reasons that I think other people will share. Even if I think a book is technically deficient, with too much “telling” versus “showing,” for example, someone else might still think that book is great. Obviously, not every book is every person’s “cup of tea.” Such is the case with Jackson Baer’s An American Family.
This is a contemporary suspense thriller about a family whose wife and mother disappears suddenly. She just vanishes while out running one evening, and Isaac, her husband, and Ramie and Carter, their two adult children, are left to figure out how hard they should look for her when there are absolutely no leads, or whether they should move on with their lives. It wasn’t my cup of tea, for various technical reasons and because I didn’t connect at all with the characters, but fans of mystery and contemporary books might appreciate what An American Family tries to accomplish.
Isaac Childs has the perfect life—until that life comes crashing down when his wife Ramie vanishes. Isaac learns that his wife’s disappearance is the ninth in a string of similar cases. In the wake of this news, he struggles to cope, to be a good father to his daughter and college-bound son, and to reclaim something of an ordinary life even as he conceals his troubled past. After the FBI makes an arrest, and his wife is presumed dead, Isaac begins to move on. Yet will his secrets catch up with him? Has he conquered his vices for good? And what of the FBI’s theory that the case isn’t completely resolved, after all?
It takes place over the course of two years, starting with the day after Ramie’s disappearance. This scope, in my mind, was the first of this book’s challenges. While it allowed Isaac, Olivia, and Carter, lots of time to examine their lives closely and work to fix a lot of the personal issues that came to the forefront in the emotional aftermath of Ramie’s absence, it also cast perhaps too large of a net. In trying to show how each of them coped over those two years, it wasn’t as strong as it could have been if it had focused on just Isaac’s struggles or just Olivia’s, I think.
More About American Family
Isaac’s come to the forefront almost immediately as he remembers a past one-night stand that he had. He paid the girl (a minor at the time) to keep quiet and never told anyone about it, not even his son when he started dating the same girl. These facts alone make him hard to relate to and support, even though he was the main character and I wanted to root for him. I wanted him to get his wife back, and for them to be happy. If he had been more tormented by his indiscretion, more honest, more forthcoming, I could have been. It wasn’t that he wasn’t haunted or emotionless, but it felt like those emotions were only given a little bit of lip service. Baer does in fact state that “many nights, Isaac woke to frightening dreams where he would see Ramie. Sometimes she was happy, other times she wasn’t breathing.” But that was such a small part of the narrative, as was the fact that we, as readers, are told this, rather than allowed to experience it with Isaac, say, in a particularly haunting dream from which he wakes up shaking or crying.
Which brings me to another technical detail that got in the way of my enjoyment of the book, but which might not bother other people. There are several instances of “telling versus showing,” meaning that we’re told about certain details or character emotions rather than given the opportunity to live through the discovery of those details or the feelings of those emotions with the characters. The third-person narrator, for instance, tells of a pill addiction that Ramie used to have that caused her to crash the family car into a tree a few years before her disappearance. The detectives tasked with solving her disappearance, in combing through every detail of Isaac’s and Ramie’s past lives, discover this and question him about it, but he doesn’t tell them anywhere near the truth of what caused the accident. The narrator tells us, however, that “this actual accident is the near accident Isaac alluded to when he spoke with the FBI agents earlier.” This relating of facts directly from the narrator to the reader took me out of the story completely for a moment, when I was already struggling to stay in it.
Likewise, when Isaac meets a new woman some months after Ramie’s disappearance, we’re told that he “took notice of this woman’s natural beauty.” I don’t know many men–even my husband–who would see a beautiful woman and think to themselves: “I’m taking notice of this woman’s natural beauty.” They would think: “Wow, she’s got great _____,” or be struck by the color of her eyes or think “I really like her smile.” When a narrator provides those kinds of details about a character’s appearance and how another character perceives that appearance (i.e., what details he/she notices and doesn’t notice), I’m able to get a better picture of how the one character looks and what the perceiving character is really like.
But Isaac isn’t the only character with whom I had a hard time connecting. Olivia, their 17-year-old-ish daughter, is more or less a foil kind of character, one whose reactions to the main character’s actions help us understand those actions a little more deeply. That is, until, she starts dating her therapist, who is 12 years older than her. One of them is white, the other is black, and they’re both women. I was taken aback by the the fact that the therapist was willing to date someone she initially met as a client. And the relationship that develops between Olivia and the therapist doesn’t seem to relate to Olivia’s grief over her mother’s disappearance, even though she began that therapy in order to understand her feelings regarding it. So, Olivia, in her own way, also seemed a little emotionless and hard to relate to.
Again, though, I realize that most people won’t read a book and like it or dislike it because there are too many instances of telling or too little to relate to in the characters. They connect, or don’t, with the feeling the book gives them. If you like books–especially mysteries or thrillers–that are primarily dark, but move toward a happier resolution, then you’ll probably like An American Family. Along those lines then…
Who Would Like An American Family, And Why?
As mentioned, those who like mysteries, thrillers, dark books, books that move toward happier resolutions, or just books that are contemporary and somewhat broad in scope, will like this book.
What’s the Deal?
As you know, I like to share deals I find on books so that you can find ones you like at low cost. Since An American Family was just released at the beginning of October, there aren’t any deals on it, but the author is willing to give away two copies, one book each to two lucky winners. One is an e-book and the other is a hard copy. Fill out the Rafflecopter form below to enter.
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It’s been a busy week getting ready for Halloween, but also one in which I also received a lot of encouragement from my writer friends and reworked my synopsis for Forced. I’m excited to embark on the 7th draft of that manuscript, with a plot that is now more intricate and truer to my character’s natures. Such a process! I finished reading The Atopia Chronicles by Matthew Mather a while ago, but haven’t had a chance to review it until now. It was an intriguing but ultimately disappointing read. Let me tell you about it.
Dr. Patricia Killiam is rushing to help save the world from itself by giving everyone everything they’ve always wanted. The question is: is she unwittingly saving the world only to cast it towards an even worse fate as humanity hurtles across the brink of forever. What could be worse than letting billions die? In the future, be careful what you wish for. The Atopia Chronicles are an exploration of the meaning love, life and the pursuit of happiness in a world teetering on the brink of post-humanism and eco-Armageddon.
Who Might Like Atopia Chronicles, and Why?
I was intrigued by the premise of this book, and the fact that it was epic sci-fi. But ultimately this book was a disappointment. I only read 68% of the way through, and decided I couldn’t push on any longer. In the form that I read, which was an anthology-like compilation, I think, of several short stories all set in the same world, it was WAY longer than it needed to be.
It was based on a fascinating concept and had a very detailed exploration of a society taken over by technology. It could have been told well in half as many pages and with fewer characters. Also, I almost didn’t read past the first chapter because the first main character is so not likable. If I were Matthew Mather, I would have picked any one but her to start the story.
But, if you’re an epic sci-fi fan, and are into thorough world-building, I would definitely recommend this book.
When my kids—who are now 15 and 9—were younger, I read to them every night at bedtime. And they both used to be good readers. As they’ve gotten older, it’s become harder and harder to muster the energy to fight them to get off their screens for the time it takes to read to them, or to read to themselves as homework. So, I’ve become more purposeful, strategic, and creative in my approach to getting them to read. I do this because I believe strongly that there are books out there for everyone to enjoy, and reviving my kids’ love of reading will help them be happier in the long run.
But being more purposeful, strategic, and creative doesn’t mean that I’m forcing them to sit down and read Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations in one sitting. It means that I try to parent in a way that is firm but also ties in with their interests and builds on their strengths. I encourage them to explore what, if anything, might make them happy about reading. I emphasize balance and moderation in all that we do. I’ve still got a lot to do; we all know that parenting is a process, not a destination. But here are 10 books that I and my kids have enjoyed or greatly benefited from. They’ve helped us in our journey of improving my kids’ reading experiences, and, with the deals I’ve provided, might help you too!
Top 10 Books for Reluctant Readers
10. Fly Guy by Ted Arnold
Evan, my 9-year-old reluctant reader, and I discovered these about three years ago at the library. They’re not text-heavy, and they’ve got big illustrations. When I give Evan “buck-a-book” challenges—where he gets $1 for each book he reads (more for chapter books, etc.) to earn money for toys he wants, etc.—these are his go-to books. They’re easy and dynamic (i.e., you often have to twist the book upside-down to write text in all different directions). And I think there’s something about the “gross factor” that appeals to him (i.e., it’s about a kid’s pet fly and their adventures in garbage and imagination).
9. Amazing World of Gumball by Megan Brennan (Author), Ben Bocquelet (Creator), Katy Farina (Illustrator)
Sometimes, the best way to get your kids to read is to get them books that tie in with what they’re watching on other channels. My kids used to love the Amazing World of Gumball when it was on Netflix, so they gobbled down the Gumball books I got for them.
This book doesn’t have a lot of text either, but it’s so cool in its message and the way it’s portrayed. It’s not your typical Dr. Seuss book at all. It’s about how our emotions relate to colors. It’s a great way to help young readers (and even older ones) articulate their feelings. Of the book, GoodReads says that it was based off a manuscript that he wrote in 1973, but didn’t publish during his lifetime. He couldn’t find the right visual artist to effectively convey the message he wanted. Somehow, the right artists found the book, or vice versa, in the early 90’s, and “using a spectrum of vibrant colors and a menagerie of animals, this unique book does for the range of human moods and emotions what Oh, the Places You’ll Go! does for the human life cycle.”
Some may scoff at my inclusion of this book on this list, but I think it’s a very useful book, thank you very much. In the same way that My Many Colored Days artistically connects emotions and color, Go Away Big Green Monster connects nightmares with pictures. Its premise is that it’s best to disassemble whatever’s scaring the reader, in the same way that the narrator’s disassemble the face of the Big Green Monster, page by page, until there’s nothing left. You could say that this could be a young kid’s first “self-help” book.
Some may scoff too at the inclusion of a book about a popular video game on a list of books to get reluctant readers reading, but if they’re as interested in the game as my kids continue to be, this is a good book to get. There may be a million YouTube videos about other people playing the game (which I don’t get, by the way. Why would you want to watch someone else play the game when you could be playing yourself?), but very few of them are actually designed to help other players (i.e., your kids). Likewise, one can find game chat boards and walkthroughs online, but those aren’t always the most helpful either. This puts more power at your kids’ fingertips, and it gets them reading. It’s a win-win.
5. Top Gear: Top 500 Coolest Cars Ever Made by Matt Master
Again, fiction might not be your child’s “thing,” and cars might, so a book like this, especially because it ties in with another one of my kids’ favorite Netflix shows, is Top Gear’s Top 500 Coolest Cars Ever Made. It’s too bad we can’t go back to the good ol’ days when Jeremy and the producers of Top Gear got along so we could watch them make “bumper cars” for old ladies and race/get stuck/race through the wilds of Africa, right? But I digress. This book is $5.25 on Amazon.
4. Big Nate by Lincoln Peirce
People debate about the effectiveness of the graphic novel in getting kids to progress in their reading abilities, but I say, get them to really enjoy reading first, and their desire to read harder and harder books will develop as a side effect of their growing interest in whatever they’re reading about. My oldest read all of the Big Nate books, and has now passed them down to my youngest.
Forget the kids, I loved these books. They’re kind of like Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH meets Get Smart, the TV series. Geronimo, the main character, is a newspaper reporter/unwitting adventure seeker, and he tells his tales with lots of color and excitement, like this:
2. Destiny 2 Collector’s Edition Guide by Prima Publishing
Along the lines of connecting what your kids read with what they’re really interested in, if they’re anything like me, they will probably have played, or at least heard of the Destiny video game, especially a new expansion pack has just been released. If they haven’t played all the way through Destiny 2 yet in preparation for getting the Forsaken expansion pack, they should, and they should read this too. Yes, they might be able to figure out what they need to get unstuck, if they’re stuck, from watching various YouTube videos (I think IGN Walkthroughs and Happy Thumbs Gaming are the most helpful), but this book has everything they’ll need not only to complete the game, but immerse themselves in it. It is a TOME. It’s huge. It was $40 when we bought it, but now it’s only $23.64.
Now, are you ready for my number one recommendation? Drum roll please…. It’s…
1. Guinness Book of World Records 2018
What?, you say. “That’s not even a ‘real’ book,” you say? I say, for purposes of getting your reluctant reader to read, probably for hours on end…with nary a screen in sight…this is one of the best. This year’s edition, like all the ones before it, was full of odd and amazing pictures and descriptions creatively laid out. It matches, I think, the shorter attention span of today’s readers, but because of it’s thickness, encourages them to read a ton, just in sizable chunks.
Life continues to be interesting. At times like these, I’m so grateful for the listening ears of family and friends, for my life, my kids, my health, the fact that I’m sleeping much better than I have in years, even the fact that I can’t keep a pair of sunglasses to save my life. It all means I’m alive and blessed! And I’ve got so many books! What more could a woman ask for? Speaking of books, I read Caitlin Seal’s Twice Dead recently, and thought I’d tell you a little bit about this dynamic read.
Naya, the daughter of a sea merchant captain, nervously undertakes her first solo trading mission in the necromancer-friendly country bordering her homeland of Talmir. Unfortunately, she never even makes it to the meeting. She’s struck down in the streets of Ceramor. Murdered. But death is not the end for Naya. She awakens to realize she’s become an abomination–a wraith, a ghostly creature bound by runes to the bones of her former corpse. She’s been resurrected in order to become a spy for her country. Reluctantly, she assumes the face and persona of a servant girl named Blue. She never intended to become embroiled in political plots, kidnapping, and murder. Or to fall in love with the young man and former necromancer she is destined to betray.
The premise of it reminded me vaguely of Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor, another YA book that deals in the slightly morbid. I understood Naya pretty quickly, which I enjoyed. Too often, amateur writers seek to grab readers from the get-go with dramatic scenes and decisions that range from the hard-to-understand all the way to bizarre. It’s a good writer who can start a book off with a bit of quick characterization, revealed by how Naya interacts with her father, then plunge into the “inciting accident” (her murder), and follow that through with reactions that make sense AND keep the plot advancing smoothly and quickly. Seal does that with this book.
Who Would Like Twice Dead, and Why?
This is the type of book you read on a stormy afternoon, snuggled up with a cup of hot chocolate and a blanket. It’s a little moody, and there’s romance.
Life has been tough for me lately! I can’t go into detail because my struggles involve someone I love whose struggles run deeper than mine and I don’t have his permission to share, but it’s made it a little hard to keep on schedule with posting. When times are tough, it helps—nay, is necessary—to be thankful for the good things in my life, and I encourage you to do the same. Here are 10 books that can help you with that, all of which I’ve read, recommend, and found deals on…and suggestions for what they might make you grateful for.
Ten Perspective-Giving Books, and Their Deals
Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen
Can make you grateful for: access to a good education
Anyone who despairs of the individual’s power to change lives has to read the story of Greg Mortenson, a homeless mountaineer who, following a 1993 climb of Pakistan’s treacherous K2, was inspired by a chance encounter with impoverished mountain villagers and promised to build them a school. Over the next decade he built fifty-five schools—especially for girls—that offer a balanced education in one of the most isolated and dangerous regions on earth. As it chronicles Mortenson’s quest, which has brought him into conflict with both enraged Islamists and uncomprehending Americans, Three Cups of Teacombines adventure with a celebration of the humanitarian spirit.
Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars brilliantly explores the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Can make you grateful for: not having the drama of being single
Summary, from Goodreads:
Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her love life: no real man can compare. But when a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined.
Decked out in empire-waist gowns, Jane struggles to master Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen; or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them. It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to fall away, and the more she wonders: Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?
Psychologist John Gottman has spent twenty years studying what makes a marriage last. Now you can use his tested methods to evaluate, strengthen, and maintain your own long-term relationship. This breakthrough book guides you through a series of self-tests designed to help you determine what kind of marriage you have, where your strengths and weaknesses are, and what specific actions you can take to help your marriage.
You’ll also learn that more sex doesn’t necessarily improve a marriage, frequent arguing will not lead to divorce, financial problems do not always spell trouble in a relationship, wives who make sour facial expressions when their husbands talk are likely to be separated within four years and there is a reason husbands withdraw from arguments—and there’s a way around it.
Dr. Gottman teaches you how to recognize attitudes that doom a marriage—contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling—and provides practical exercises, quizzes, tips, and techniques that will help you understand and make the most of your relationship. You can avoid patterns that lead to divorce, and—Why Marriages Succeed or Fail will show you how.
Summary, from Barnes & Noble: More amazing than any work of fiction, yet true in every word, it swept to the top of the bestseller lists and riveted the consciousness of the world. As an Emmy Award-winning film starring Sally Field, it captured the home screens of an entire nation and has endured as the most electrifying TV movie ever made. It’s the story of a survivor of terrifying childhood abuse, victim of sudden and mystifying blackouts, and the first case of multiple personality ever to be psychoanalyzed.
You’re about to meet Sybil-and the sixteen selves to whom she played host, both women and men, each with a different personality, speech pattern, and even personal appearance. You’ll experience the strangeness and fascination of one woman’s rare affliction-and travel with her on her long, ultimately triumphant journey back to wholeness.
Can make you grateful that: the nations of the world haven’t fumigated the earth with nuclear bombs and left behind only pockets of civilization surviving in craters forever lidded with dense, radioactive clouds.
Summary, from Goodreads:
Twelve-year-old Hope lives in White Rock, a town struggling to recover from the green bombs of World War III. The bombs destroyed almost everything that came before, so the skill that matters most in White Rock—sometimes it feels like the only thing that matters—is the ability to invent so that the world can regain some of what it’s lost.
But Hope is terrible at inventing and would much rather sneak off to cliff dive into the Bomb’s Breath—the deadly band of air that covers the crater the town lives in—than fail at yet another invention.
When bandits discover that White Rock has invented priceless antibiotics, they invade. The town must choose whether to hand over the medicine and die from disease in the coming months or die fighting the bandits now. Hope and her friends, Aaren and Brock, might be the only ones who can escape through the Bomb’s Breath and make the dangerous trek over the snow-covered mountain to get help. For once, inventing isn’t the answer, but the daring and risk-taking that usually gets Hope into trouble might just save them all.
Can make you grateful that: aliens haven’t besieged Planet Earth with four waves of pandemics on a scale the globe has never seen before, and are now inflicting the fifth wave, which makes you lose everyone in your family except your little brother, who gets kidnapped by the aliens.
Summary, from Goodreads:
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one. Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother-or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.
For Elspeth Gordie freedom is-like so much else after the Great White-a memory. It was a time known as the Age of Chaos. In a final explosive flash everything was destroyed. The few who survived banded together and formed a Council for protection. But people like Elspeth-mysteriously born with powerful mental abilities-are feared by the Council and hunted down like animals…to be destroyed. Her only hope for survival to is keep her power hidden. But is secrecy enough against the terrible power of the Council?
When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers—boys whose memories are also gone. Outside the towering stone walls that surround them is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out—and no one’s ever made it through alive. Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying. Remember. Survive. Run.
I am such a begrudging fan of Marie Lu’s Young Elites. This book was so wonderful in so many ways, but the ending was SUCH a disappointment for me. Nevertheless, I’m in the minority, judging by the 4.1/5 average rating from 554 reviewers on Amazon, and the 3.92/5 average rating from almost 100,000 reviewers on Goodreads. Those are very good numbers. Let me tell you a little bit about Young Elites, so you can buy a cheap copy and decide for yourself!
What is Young Elites About?
Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.
Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites. He is to destroy them before they destroy the nation. But he may possess the darkest secret of all.
Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.
Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways. Of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.
It’s amazing how the power-struggle theme of this book parallels the theme of the two other books I’m reading right now: War Storm by Victoria Aveyard and Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi.
Who Would Want to Read Young Elites, And Why?
If you like gripping reads that pull you hand-over-fist into another world, you’ll like Young Elites. The theme of Adelina’s struggle to embrace either her good or bad side was gripping. Lu did such a good job of developing the plot quickly. She built suspense and intensity from almost the very first page. The different dynamics between the Adelina and her sister, her and Enzo, her and the other Young Elites, her and her father, were quite unique. The premise and world-building were thorough yet efficient, enough to satisfy even the most hard-core fan of fantasy or speculative fiction..
However, (MAJOR SPOILER ALERT, I was so saddened by the fact that the finale was so horribly unsuccessful and that, ultimately, Adelina chose to embrace the bad side of her power. That Enzo died, that the Young Elites expelled Adelina, etc. was the opposite of how things should’ve gone. (END MAJOR SPOILER ALERT).
But, like I say, I’m in the minority, so definitely consider checking it out from your local library or buying it because…
Starting a new senior editor job while still very actively reading, writing my books, critiquing and editing others’, networking with other readers, writers, and book bloggers on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, AND feeding my family, taking care of our house, and helping others is a lot of work, but I’m enjoying it! I like being busy, and recognize that every opportunity to associate with other awesome people, every day with decent health and good sleep, every moment with my kids (who I wasn’t sure I’d be able to have, as I recounted here), every opportunity to work and earn money is a BLESSING. And you people who read my reviews, chat with me on social media, or follow me: you’re all wonderful.
Some true reviewers of science fiction books would say I’m not a real science fiction fan until I’ve read and reviewed at least one Robert Heinlein book. Heinlein was known as the “dean of science fiction writers.” He was named the first Science Fiction Grand Master ever. Four of his books won Hugo awards, which are the pinnacle of recognition for the sci-fi genre. Because I admire him as a writer, have a goal to read the rest of his works, and want you to be well-informed, let me tell you about Stranger In a Strange Land.
What is Stranger in a Strange Land About?
The premise is interesting: a man raised by Martians comes to Earth and learns its customs, but because he has learned other powers, eventually starts his own church.
Who Would Like Stranger in a Strange Land, And Why?
If you’re a fan of literary fiction—the kind that revels in long narrative and beautiful speech, you’ll like this book. If you like esoteric characters or philosophical examinations of religion, you’ll like this book. I liked the first half of the book, although it was a bit slow and cumbersome for me. The second half started getting too strange, so I didn’t finish. But that’s just me.
There are a lot of things people say we need these days: fewer guns, better schools, less rain on the eastern U.S. coast, more rain in the West, a certain person out of political office, etc., etc. I would argue that, above and beyond any and all of those things, what we need is more empathy. It’s a personality trait that’s hard to define, especially to younger minds, and harder, perhaps, to develop and express. In a recent council my husband and I had with our kids on the subject of empathy, the best we could do was: “walking in other people’s shoes.” That is, indeed, a part of it: using one’s imagination to picture what it must be like for someone to experience something. But the actual act of using one’s imagination to do that can be difficult, especially if one thinks quite literally, like children do, or if one has limited experience. And let’s be honest: none of us has experienced everything so we’re all limited in some respects. And the expression of empathy is another important “ball of wax” too. So, I’ve put together a list of a few movies that demonstrate, in practice, what the exercise of empathy can look like.
Some of them are “family” movies, but not all, because it’s as important for adults to expand their ability to empathize as it is for kids to develop it. Oh, and I found deals on all of them for you! You’re welcome!
One might ask how a movie (and book) about a boy who ends up at an exclusive space school for kids training to defeat a once-ubiquitous alien race that almost wiped out the human species has anything to do with empathy. Bear with me, because I think this movie demonstrates empathy beautifully.
Ender’s too young to remember the almost-extinction of his race, but not too young to’ve learned about Mazer Rackham, a former fighter in that battle who saved humanity. At the school, he meets Rackham and, through him and letters from his sister back on Earth, becomes more acquainted with Earth’s past. Even as his understanding awakens, his battle skills sharpen, until he leads squadrons of soldiers in what they think are simulation attacks on the “bugger” race that originally attacked them. When he and his squadrons finally, through a “preemptiveness” mentality and great skill, annihilate that entire race, he’s told that the simulations were in fact real. Because of he’s learned about what Earth went through, he realizes the horror of what he’s done. At the very end of the movie, he’s given an opportunity to atone for what he did. In the sequels to the book upon which this movie is based, he spends the rest of his life doing so.
Similarly, one might wonder how a movie about a man woken prematurely from a cryostatic sleep on a space ship bound for a colony planet millions of light years away could demonstrate empathy. One might, in fact, really wonder that when one discovers that the man, after years of complete solitude on this ship, wakes up a woman and tells her that she was accidentally woken up early too but that he’s there to help her. He’d found that his premature awakening meant that he would age and die before the ship ever reached the planet. Waking the woman meant condemning her to the same fate. He was the opposite of empathetic, right? Yes.
Through a series of twists, though, Aurora, the women he woke up, is faced with the possibility that Jim, the man, might be killed and she would be completely alone for the rest of her life, aboard that ship. She realizes the desperate straits into which he was plunged. She doesn’t forgive him for lying to her, as well she shouldn’t, but he strives to atone for what he comes to realize as the worst of mistakes by discovering a way to put her back into cryostatic sleep. She refuses.
It’s not for kids because there is nudity and some scary moments. But it’s great for some adult empathy developing, and…
Parents need to know that Inside Out is an outstandingly original, heartfelt story from Pixar about growing up and learning to handle your biggest emotions. Told primarily from the perspective of the feelings inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind (brought to life by the voices of Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader, and more), the plot has many moments of peril/tension — including bridges/islands crumbling, a train tumbling over a precipice, and characters falling into a deep, dark pit. (Spoiler alert: One key character also permanently fades from existence; that and scenes in which it seems Riley is “borrowing” her mom’s credit card and running away are definitely upsetting.) Some of Riley’s fears are also on display, including a giant, scary clown. Parents are likely to get hit hardest by the film’s heart-tugging moments (bring tissues!), but anyone with empathy will feel for Riley as she experiences life’s ups and downs. Ultimately, Inside Out has important messages about needing to feel — and express — all of your emotions, whether happy or sad. Although most of the content is appropriate for elementary schoolers and up, younger kids may need a bit more explanation about what’s going on, since there are references to abstract thought and the subconscious, and it can be a little confusing when other characters’ emotions are shown.
Remember how I said empathy is all about getting into other peoples’ heads? That’s literally what 90% of this movie is about. The main character, Dom, has the technology to get into their dreams to learn their deepest secrets and even plant ideas in their subconsciousnesses, but to do so he and his team of dream operatives have to dive deeper into his own secrets than he’s comfortable with. Indeed, such a dive puts more than just their minds on the line.
One might say that true love is a form of the purest empathy possible, one in which the person who truly loves is most easily able to understand the person he or she loves. It’s also the form in which that empathy is most easily expressed, and ideally, the most often returned. The tale of how empathetic love develops between Beauty and the Beast, especially the original version, is a sweet depiction.