Saturday, May 29, 2021

Never Turn the Page Too Soon (Shelf Life Book 1) by Leslie R. Henderson

Never Turn the Page Too Soon is a middle grade fantasy book that was sent to me by the author. One day, Little Book's author drops him in the donation cart in the local bookstore and drives away. After crying tears of ink, he finds something shocking; at night when the bookstore closes, the books and the characters in them come to life. He navigates the society of the bookstore trying to prove himself as worthy of shelf space and acceptance as he tries to avoid those who want to send him to the giant shredder.

As soon as I read the synopsis that described the perspective being from an inanimate object, a book, I was thrilled. When I was younger I would love writing poems and short stories from the viewpoint of items such as fruit waiting to be picked, or how a trash can felt with each item that was dumped. The concept of the characters coming to life out of the books and having parties and a life at night, and then quickly hopping back on the shelves before opening time was hilarious. There were even police (known as the Space Arrangers) and lawyers. Seeing Dr. Phil was very entertaining. The little details in the story were the best. Never Turn the Page Too Soon was funny and cute; I was smiling and giggling for most of the book.

There was a fear from the books in the store of being shredded by the machine called the LYON. This is not too far from the truth. Bookstores try to send unsold books back to the publisher, but many do not want to pay the shipping costs, and so they ask the stores to dispose of the books instead. Many do not have the resources to work with a recycling center, and the books get dumped out instead. Those that can afford it shred them instead. I used to volunteer in a library, and I know that they tried their best to give away for free the books that weren't being checked out. I actually spent time organizing the donation bins where Little Book was left. The descriptions of how the bookstore worked and the procedures were accurately pictured.

While this book is a fantasy, a lot of it does pertain truth to real-life struggles of being a self-published book. I know the majority of book reviewers do not accept books from self-published authors, and I have never understood why. To me, a book is a book. From reading Never Turn the Page Too Soon, I now know why- to the publishing and literature industry, self-published books are viewed as inferior.

"As for being self-published, only the best of the best belongs in our bookstore. So, if you're self-published, it means you are not the best. And if you're not the best, you don't belong in our bookstore 'cause it means you're not good enough" (pg. 25).

Never Turn the Page Too Soon connects the real difficulties of being an author and book publication with the insecurities that everyone face with the struggle of being "good enough" to be accepted by society and their peers. This need becomes increasingly apparent when kids enter middle school, and even more emphasized and emotionally damaging in high school. This book teaches that no matter where you came from or what you look like, you still are worthy and have potential to make it as far as you dreamed. Little Book was able to earn approval and friendships from his personality and talent despite the prejudice of being an "infiltrator". I loved the ending.

I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading the sequel, Journey to the Kingdom of No Return.

Title: Never Turn the Page Too Soon
Author: Leslie R. Henderson
Publisher: Leslie R. Henderson
Pages: 222
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 2
Rating: 5 Stars

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Dawn Rising (Marked Book 1) by A.F.E. Smith

Dawn Rising is the first in the YA fantasy series Marked. The author sent me this book to review. Alyssia Gale's earliest memory is the car accident that killed her parents four years ago. Since then, her visions have only intensified, transporting her into the lives of four people in pain in the different world of Endarion. Alyssia tries to tell herself that none of it is real, but that becomes impossible to believe when she literally falls through a window into that other world. Rather than focusing on how to get home, she sees a chance for her to help her four "friends" get out of their painful situations. Along the way, she may not only save them, but also learn the truth about who she is and her family.

This book uniquely mixes reality and issues of mental illness, discrimination, abuse, and corruptness with a fantasy world. Alyssia's visions was a captivating take to telling the lives and background stories of the other characters. I did guess the plot twist at the end of who Alyssia really is, and it was enjoyable to see that I was right. What made the journey of them through Endarion amazing was not the setting of the world, but why the characters were there and their motivations for the sacrifices and choices they made along the adventure.

Alyssia is beyond brave, braver than I would be in that situation. Falling through a window and then seeing the people inside her head? I would have been freaking out. Her noble qualities of trying to save them in spite of what might happen to herself are admirable. I did enjoy more reading about Alyssia's life here and in school than in Endarion. While not the best choice, I applaud Alyssia for standing up for herself. I look forward to seeing more of her life in Woodleigh and in her high school in the coming books and her relationship with her classmates. I do not blame Peter for no longer being her friend as he was bullied into doing so. I hope that Colin will eventually get the punishment that he deserves. 

Each character had their own unique challenges and diverse feelings. Oriana struggled with overcoming physical and emotional abuse from her husband and her disgraced healing abilities. I enjoyed her character development of finding strength within herself, and even laughing again. Fabithe is the most interesting of them. His darkened heart from battle set on revenge conflicting with his unconscious desire to have companionship and care for something. Finding a balance between violence and caring was extremely difficult for him, but the most fascinating to watch. ToralĂ© is the most mysterious of the bunch, as the majority of his story is based on him being tortured and locked away for a crime he didn't commit. I look forward to learning more about him in the following books.

I highly recommend this book and I cannot wait to read the next, The Dark Knife

Title: Dawn Rising
Author: A.F.E. Smith
Publisher: Ironwright Books
Pages: 303
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 5
Rating: 5 Stars

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Behind the Open Door: The Book of Light Book 1 by Sally Gallot-Reeves

Behind the Open Door is a middle grade fantasy story that was sent to me by the publicist. This is the first in a 5-part series. 8-year-old Cassie has always had a vivid imagination- at least, that is what others think. In reality, she can sense vibrational frequencies and travel between different realms. Her talents, as well as her telepathy, become more apparent upon moving to a new home in Maine with a magical history. With her new guide (invisible to everyone else) dog Patrik, she works on helping the elemental kingdom and the fairies. Initially hindered by her family's anger and misunderstanding of her magical adventures, she helps them find enjoyable moments and see the magic within and around them.

The way her telepathy was shown was subtle- the book frequently showed conversations between other people even miles away that Cassie could hear. She could also transmit thoughts (what she calls "mind-wishes") and can hear the rest of people's sentences that aren't said aloud. Reeves did a good job balancing her powers with what could be excused as being observational, instinctive, and a vibrant imagination. The fact that Cassie's powers were not overbearing and obvious helped to the relatability of the story and contributed to the emotional tension in the family. It was exciting to see how her powers evolved and the effects it had on her family and friends. Cassie's mother was especially noteworthy in character development.

Most children have an imaginary companion and engage in elaborate imaginary activities. Even though Cassie's "pretend-play" or imagination is magic and is actually real in this book, various parenting strategies and ways to interact with Cassie have educational value. I took an educational psychology class last semester, and I can say that there is educational value and truth of what the book discusses on how to not only healthily encourage children to have confidence in their creativity, but also to learn the difference between reality and pretend. To find out what I am referring to, read the book! The ending was relaxing and a bit soothing. While there are four more books in this series, it could be a stand-alone. While some people prefer gripping cliffhangers, it is refreshing to see a book wrapped up nicely in the end and feel satisfied. It is a lovely story to read in the evening to relax before bed, and could allow for beautiful dreams. It is also the type of story that is fitting to read many times.

I highly recommend this book and am excited to read the next ones!

Title: Behind the Open Door
Author: Sally Gallot-Reeves
Publisher: Balboa Press 
Pages: 302
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 5
Rating: 5 Stars

Monday, May 17, 2021

Red Blood: Card Holders Book 1 by Kaitlyn Legaspi

Red Blood is the first in a YA fantasy 6-book series that was sent to me by the author. In Neela's world, there are two types of people. The Unbound have powers, and the Bound do not. Despite the Unbound being treated like garbage and living in the slums, they also hold the highest rank in government- decided through a bloody tournament between the Specialists- those with two classes of powers. Neela is an enhancer and a naturalist, and has been using some of her powers for years on the streets as a vigilante. But now that her domain's Card Holder died, she is forced into the competition. Along the way she will not only fight for change in the ring and make some friends, but also encounter dangerous enemies... some all too similar to those who killed her parents.

Neela is intelligent, rebellious, tough but compassionate, and beautifully powerful. Along with no interest in distractions of romance, she reminds me of myself in some ways. I admire her strong moral values of not harming innocent children and never killing anyone. It is rare and honorable to be a vigilante and not kill. This makes the title of the book a bit ironic, as she has a strong distaste for blood. Neela's character development took an interesting shape. Contrary to the norm, she started off as cocky/assertive and guarded, but then gradually became more soft and open. Not that its rare for a character to enter powerful and strong in morals, but this was a bit refreshing and posed an interesting challenge for Legaspi. I am looking forward to seeing how her character will evolve in the following books.

The contrast between the slums and the core of the Queen of Heart's Domain is certainly realistic, and the treatment and societal discrimination brought onto the unbound remind me of our issues of systematic inequality and racism. They are able to hold government not because the people voted, but because of a dire competition. If Neela can win this bloodthirsty tournament, she has a pretty good shot at making some actual change. She's already got plenty of attention. In fact, even if she dies, (I hope not!) good could still come out of it. The plot had strong foreshadowing and was pretty predictable, but it was still exciting to keep reading and see if I was right. One part of the ending that was not foreshadowed broke my heart. At least this will be a series! 

Conceptually, their government structure based on cards makes sense- historically suits in a deck represent the four economic classes of Medieval society. I hope the future books delve more into the cards and their roles- typically the queen of hearts card represents sincere love, which could support the gradual character development of Neela opening herself up to friendships and love. On the other hand, in the roles of government the Heart usually meant the role of the church, Spades for the military, Clubs represented agriculture, and Diamonds represented the merchant/lower class. In Red Blood, the black-backed cards conjure a weapon, which would align with how spades (for the military) are black symbols. That's the only color of their magical spell cards that make clear sense. I also didn't see anything regarding religion in the book, and it would be interesting if in future books the symbolism of the different suits and deeper meanings behind each domain and color of their weapon/magic cards were further elaborated/incorporated. I see a lot of potential here.

Card Holders: Two More Lives will not be out until Spring 2022, and I cannot wait to read it!

Title: Red Blood: Card Holders
Author: Kaitlyn Legaspi
Publisher: Kaitlyn Legaspi
Pages: 343
Series: Yes, Book 1 of 6
Rating: 5 Stars

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Tangled Tongue: A F.U.S.E. Adventure by Jean Husband

Tangled Tongue is a middle grade realistic fiction book that was sent to me by the author. 12-year-old Duff struggles with speech disfluency, and his father invents FUSE, a focused ultrasound electronic. This device sends micro-focused sound waves into sensory-motor systems of Duff's brain to smooth his speech. When the device works, it attracts some negative attention from other scientists nearby who want to steal the rights to the technology. When his father is kidnapped, he manages to communicate with Duff through the FUSE. Duff teams up with an old friend and a new one to get his dad back- no matter the danger. 

I really enjoyed the story! While it is just 162 pages, a lot happened and was suspenseful and fascinating. Duff's character development was strong, and I liked watching him become more confident, stand up for himself, and even embrace openness to new friends and forgiveness outside of the soccer field. Duff's bravery and love for his father was strong, and I love that he never gave up hope. Kids can be more resourceful than adults give them credit for. The book is mostly fun to read, and the kidnapping is not gory or anything like that. Tangled Tongue could also create an interest in STEM. 

I like this cover better than the other version, but they still need some work, especially as the style of the art makes it seem for a younger audience and easier reading level than it can be. While I understand the symbolism, it also is a bit misleading with the illustration of the tongue when stuttering is usually caused by abnormalities in the pathways in the brain responsible for language, not controllable by moving your tongue differently. 

I won't go into the technicalities of the specific differences of gray and white matter and fractional anisotropy, but the book actually does a good job of condensing some of the science into an easily understandable way. Focused ultrasound neuromodulation, the basis of the FUSE invention in the book, is currently used to treat psychiatric disorders, traumatic brain injuries, dysmotility disorders, chronic pain, and epilepsy. Neuromodulation is actually fascinating and is one of the fastest growing areas of medicine. Most research supporting non-invasive neuromodulation's use for speech impairments and stuttering use transcranial direct current stimulation, as focused ultrasound is rarer and mostly proven for behavioral disorders, however there is no reason not to assume that it could still work. In the future, these devices could become much more prevalent in society. The book was also realistic in which letters people who stutter struggle with the most.

I recommend that you read this book and I am excited to read the next book whenever it is ready!

Here's information on the technology if you are interested:

Title: Tangled Tongue: A F.U.S.E. Adventure
Author: Jean Husband
Publisher: Jean Husband
Series: Yes, Book 1
Rating: 5 Stars
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