“But you can’t cast your hurt on other people. Your heart will never heal that way. It will only grow darker.”
The Leopard Behind the Moon is a beautifully written parable about children in a small village learning about acceptance. Each child has suffered and is looking for a way to right the wrongs they have experienced. Ezomo is a “useless” boy in the village who has been rocked by the death of his father. Chiamama’s family is shunned within the village because her mother can’t cook. Muja’s father has lost his voice and has become irrelevant within the village. They band together to help Ezomo find the leopard who killed his father. This quest takes them out of the village putting them in danger and angering the elders. The adventures they encounter provide them opportunities for tough choices that teach them lesson after lesson.
I really enjoyed the magic threaded throughout their very normal existence. These children had big hearts, a strong sense of justice and everlasting hope. This is a beautiful middle grade story told in the African tradition of oral storytelling. I highly recommend this short, beautiful story. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thanks to Greenwillow Books for a copy. All opinions above are my own.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more appreciative to a book tour exposing me to a novel before. I love historical fiction but I’ll admit I gravitate towards a handful of time/locations when choosing: WWII, English monarchy, colonial America. Beneath The Veil Of Smoke & Ash was a bullet out of nowhere for me, set in the early 1900’s in steel and coal country. The story follows an immigrant family trying to capture the American dream but never quite grasping it.
The characters drew me in right away, I haven’t read many stories that I was so invested in or so conflicted by. There are some unusual circumstances that you can totally believe could have played out in real life. Abuse and neglect and xenophobia that certainly defined the growth of America and yet we are only just beginning to unfold and understand these stories. People faced with impossible decisions to try to survive and yet no one lost the hope of the potential to thrive. I was so intrigued by the harshness of the era and understanding how people coped with the constant tragedy and hardship their lives entailed. I appreciated the storyline of mental illness and how it impacted everyone around that character. I absolutely devoured this novel. I would love a sequel to understand where each of the characters went after the story ended. If you enjoy historical fiction by authors like Kristin Hannah, Phillippa Gregory or Gill Paul then you should definitely check this one out. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thanks to Booksparks for a copy of this novel. All opinions above are my own.
Thanks so much to the Zakar brothers for putting their new journal/self-help workbook on my radar. It was the perfect tone and length for one of those sad rainy weekends where you need to ask yourself “Are you sad or bored?”
The Zakar twins amuse us with anecdotes of their highs and lows while helping prompt us through probing questions to find our triggers and action points to find our happiness. They take the reader through tried and true anxiety management techniques like 5-4-3-2-1, touch upon Buddhism and meditation as well as just make you laugh at their own millennial views on coping with trauma. There are quite a few laughs and some nuggets of hope as well as some real exercises for introspection.
This is definitely a book designed for your average person who is struggling with the blues or a feeling of hopelessness or despair. It’s for someone who is still afloat and is looking for the next life raft. I will caution that I wouldn’t recommend this as your only resource if you’re suffering from serious depression, it offers a great distraction and some laughs but “choose happiness” is more a motto for the average person struggling and not someone with clinical depression. There is a huge difference between someone who is going through a hard time in life and someone who has a clinical depression and should seek medication and therapy as well as a resource like this.
I will caution that while this book is focused on the average person’s mental health and coping mechanisms for the day to day, it won’t replace therapy. Some folks will not be able to be as self aware as you need to be to do these exercises and get real value from them. But, it’s certainly a fun read to help prompt thought and introspection.
What situations do you need to actively “choose happiness” to balance your stress?
Rock Paper Scissors is domestic thriller meets horror. We all know that the most important part of a horror story is location and Alice Feeney gets it right with this one! The bulk of the story is set in a converted old chapel in the Scottish Highlands where a couple are celebrating their anniversary. The husband is a career-obsessed screenwriter with face blindness and the wife is, well annoyed, with her husband.
The atmosphere in this one was such a hit for me; creepy, isolated, old chapel in a snowstorm. The tension built with every noisy and creak. Chapters alternate between the wife and husband with letters written by the wife each anniversary. We see the current state of their lives and slowly the details of the past are filled in for us. I’ll stop there because anything more would be major spoilery.
The twist did surprise me but not wow me. I think I’m harder on thrillers than other types of novels but Alice Feeney’s last novel was really amazing and this one I thought was just good. The ending was a little like, ok we need to wrap it up so here you go. This one is perfect for an evening binge read or beach read because the pages definitely kept turning.
Thanks to Netgalley for access to this novel. All opinions above are my own.
The game Rock, Paper, Scissors plays a role in this novel, so tell me which of the three do you usually throw first?
Erin Hahn’s More than Maybe was one of my top ten reads of 2020, I’m not huge on contemporary romance but it hit all the right notes for me. Vada and Luke were quirky fun teenagers coming of age, passionate about music and their futures. In Never Saw You Coming, we get another pair of teens who are finding their way in life becoming adults free of the sins of their parents when they are enamored by one another.
Meg has fled home on her gap year after finding out that her father is not her biological one. She is forced to confront the falseness of the strict religious upbringing her parents forced upon her in atonement for their own sins. She wanders to the town where her real father’s family is and finds herself, finds a home and finds Micah. Micah is also from a religious family, his father is one of those pastors who lost his way and abused folks in his parish. Micah is disillusioned with the church and the world but is a good person trying to make his way into adulthood. His best friend, Duke, is trying to figure out his sexuality and offers more fodder for the overall discussion of right versus wrong in the church versus what’s acceptable in the secular world. As I read, I felt the tension Meg carried as she navigated her upbringing and her love for Jesus with the realities of being a teen in the world. It was perhaps more heavy handed of a religious contemporary read than I would generally go for but when I read the author’s note I really wanted to cheer for what Hahn was trying to do. The quote that I loved was: “I think that’s the night I stopped caring about hurting the church’s feelings.”
I agreed with the sentiment that the church sometimes loses the forest for the trees and that loving Jesus and following a bunch of antiquated, arbitrary rules are not the same. I think this book will be a bit polarizing but I thought it had just the right tone for a clean teen romance trying to promote real ethical and moral conduct to teens without austerity. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this novel. All opinions are my own.
Another fantasy world where those with magic are feared and exiled, but right in the King’s court hiding in plain sight is Rora. Serving as a spy for the King she is sent on a mission to negotiate with the giants for stardust. Stardust to stop a magic plague and save the King’s son who also happens to be the love of her brother’s life. For the trip, Rora and her brother are saddled with the King’s elder son who despises them. Enter witty banter and strife for their journey through the wilderness. Along the way they suffer all sorts of hardships and realize that the battle against magic is much more widespread and personal than they ever knew.
The first quarter of this story was quite an information dump as we get familiar with this world. It’s worth sticking with as once they start their journey the action is good. The journey reminded me a lot of Frodo and Sam on a selfless mission facing all manner of danger.
I enjoyed the read although it’s fairly formulaic YA fantasy. I liked the characters and their magic. I wished the ending was less of a cliffhanger and more of a natural end. I promise, I’ll read your second book, you don’t need to give me an aggressively sad ending with overtures to a much bigger adventure.
Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this novel. All opinions are my own.
In this one the magic can shift into animals, what animal would you want to be able to shift into?
The Archer is a story of finding yourself and being authentic to who you are and what you want even when society and everyone around you are pressing for something different. Set in Bombay in the 1960s and 70s, Vidya is a child full of fantasy caught up in the dream of becoming a dancer. Her childhood is fraught with pain due to her missing mother and overbearing traditional father.
We see her fight as she ages to live the life she wants and be the dancer she wants to be. Even after she gets her wish to learn dance, she pushes for more to break with tradition and move the way she wants. We see over and over that she is pressed back into the mold that society wants for her. I really felt for Vidya as she struggled to be herself, to love who she wanted to love, to pursue her passion. The Archer is a very atmospheric read with beautifully written passages about fulfillment and authenticity of spirit. ⭐️⭐️⭐️💫
Thanks to Algonquin Books for a copy of this novel. All opinions are my own.
What’s the last book that transported you to another time and place?
“Like the Ghost of Christmas Future, the pandemic itself may very well be the grim reaper pointing at our existing sins while simultaneously shining a light on a new pathway for us – one which rethink our own privilege and reconsider who is essential, what essential status means, whether the truly essential workers are paid as such, and so forth.”
The current pandemic is a very heavy topic and our reactions to it as a country have been highly divisive. Kari Nixon attempts to evaluate and analyze some of the social, ethical and political biases we have as a nation to better help us understand why we have reacted the way we have and to show us examples of similar behavior in the past. She outlines a series of lessons humanity should understand in order to assess the current situation and the behaviors we’re seeing.
My favorite areas were the historical recountings of various pandemic sufferers and the reactions to their losses of freedom, life and the often irrational responses to suggested mitigations. The author is very clear which side of the fence she’s on in each ethical dilemma she presents to us, as she does her classes, but she presents clear and fair analyses of the “other” side. There were times where my personal feelings were rankled and I felt there was some subconscious nudgings in one direction or another but I think for the most part the assessments were fair.
As a scientist, I valued the clear way she presented the truth of science and medicine as a work in progress. That there is still humanity in science and that our biases impact our ability to analyze data and see the truth. Microscopes capable of seeing germs existed a century before the human mind could comprehend and accept them. Handwashing was a simple solution to avoiding post-birth complications with a compelling case for it and doctors still scoffed at the suggestion (sounds a little like the current reaction to masks). The funny thing to me is that more than a hundred years later we’re still arguing similar simple solutions.
Fundamentally, humans have not changed their ease with which they adapt to life-threatening situations. Risk elimination is impossible and statistics can put us in a denial-panic cycle and studies show humans are terrible at assessing risk when in a fear state. Humans can cognitively evaluate but generally emotionally respond. And do so with heavy bias.
Interesting read that is easy to absorb for the non-scientist/ethicist with lots of little anecdotes and scenarios to challenge your own thoughts.
Thanks to Kate Rock Book Tours for a copy. All opinions are my own.
Here’s my pandemic survival kit, how have you survived?
Wow, this one really came out of nowhere for me. I saw some buzz about it when it was a BOTM selection so I decided to request it on @netgalley and luckily I was granted access. I really enjoyed this story. It’s timely (it takes place as the pandemic is hitting), it’s atmospheric (Dublin *sigh*), it’s got probably my favorite meet-cute of all time (hello – NASA chat!) and the mysteries within are really cleverly written.
I would say it’s best to go into this one not knowing much about the story. Ciara and Oliver are strangers who meet in a grocery store just as the pandemic is hitting. They have chemistry and lovely banter but both are holding back pieces of themselves. The first lockdown of the pandemic has them make an unusual choice to share an apartment only a couple of weeks into their relationship. Interesting details as they both begin to wonder about who one another really is.
You should the story is not written in a straightforward manner, it has multiple POV and a timeline that skips around a little. It reminded me of Memento (am I dating myself with that reference?) meets Sally Rooney with a dash of Lisa Jewell. I really loved that, but I can imagine it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I also wouldn’t say it’s a thriller so much as a well-written slow burn mystery. Really surprised to be giving two “thrillers” five stars this month but there you go. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thanks to Netgalley for a copy of this novel. All opinions above are my own.
What did your first 56 Days of the pandemic look like?
“Hope does not deny all the difficulty and all the danger that exists, but it is not stopped by them. There is a lot of darkness, but our actions create light.”
Who doesn’t love Jane Goodall?! This book was a real breath of fresh air. At one point the author, who is having conversations with Jane to write the book, mentions that the pitch for the book was to have something similar to the Dalai Lama’s Book of Joy but for hope. Boy, does this book hit that mark perfectly! The book is chockful of quotables, facts and of course glimpses into Jane’s life and how hope helped her overcome adversity.
“Hope leads to a 12% increase in academic performance, a 14% increase in workplace outcomes and a 14% boost in happiness.” But the thing that is most powerful for building hope, Jane reiterates many times are anecdotes and stories. She shares many throughout the pages, some about the resurgence of endangered species some about empowering of the locals, some about teaching protections for the environment. All of them hopeful. All of them about taking action in the face of adversity.
This is a great read that combos science, conservation and ecology with philosophy and psychology to pack a powerful punch. It’s a great piece about an inspiring woman. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thanks to Celadon Books for this copy. All opinions above are my own.