Review – The Golden Sequence by Jonni Pollard

The Golden Sequence by Jonni Pollard

I recently had the opportunity to read The Golden Sequence by Jonni Pollard. This book came as a surprise to me, just bundled in with another book I had been asked to review. Let me tell you, surprise books are the best kind of surprise.

The Golden Sequence is much along the same vein as the past few books I’ve been sent for review; it is a book about finding yourself, discovering your innermost desires and drives, and reaching a certain kind of fulfillment. With The Burn Zone, I followed the story of a woman trapped in a cult, frantically searching for herself after losing her identity entirely to the world she’d been absorbed into. Then in Brother John, I read the essay of a man seeking purpose, hiding out in a monastery and all buy idolizing a monk who lives there.

The Golden Sequence is a how-to guide, more or less. It is a meditation aid and a guide in seeking fulfillment through understanding The Golden Sequence.

“In Western society and culture, we are more connected to each other than ever through social media and mobile communication, yet we feel increasingly disconnected and isolated.”

Jonni Pollard, The Golden Sequence

As I’ve said, this book is a lot about finding yourself and finding purpose in your life. It aims to identify the problems in our lives–why we’re feeling unfulfilled and unconnected–and help us to fix the brokenness in our lives.

And that’s where it falls apart for me, personally. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this book; it is well-written and researched and thought out. But I am not one for meditation or seeking fulfillment through self-discovery. And that is 100% to do with my own religious and spiritual views.

That said, there was still much to be gleaned from The Golden Sequence, even for a non-meditating Christian, like me. It was interesting to learn about Vedism and its views on seeking fulfillment. And it was interesting to read Pollard’s understanding and delivery of the Vedistic beliefs.

My biggest takeaway from The Golden Sequence was the Four Golden Insights:

  1. Life is Sacred
  2. Love is our Nature
  3. Wisdom is our Power
  4. Fulfillment is our Purpose

What really intrigued me about this is the universal truth behind it all. Aren’t we all trying to get to a place where we understand and believe that life is sacred, love is natural, wisdom is powerful, and that purpose and fulfillment are inextricably linked? Even in my own, different beliefs, these are ideals resonate so deep within me. Can you imagine a world where everybody held these same beliefs dear?

So while this was not a life-changing book for me, it was chock-full of truth and ideals that may resonate with others. It gives words to an understanding I’ve had for a long time that wisdom comes in different forms and in different areas. It spoke on the universal truth on our brokenness and our inadequacies.

Plucky’s Rating?

3 out of 5 stars

Yours,

The Plucky Reader

Review – Brother John by August Turak

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Recipient of the prestigious Templeton Prize, Brother John is the true story of a meaningful encounter between the author going through a mid-life crisis, and an umbrella-wielding Trappist monk. This magical encounter on Christmas Eve eventually leads the author, and us all, to the redemptive power of an authentically purposeful life. Uplifting, deeply moving, and set in the magnificent Trappist monastery of Mepkin Abbey, Brother John is dramatically brought to life by over twenty full color paintings by Glenn Harrington, a multiple award-winning artist. Brother John‘s inspirational message takes place at Christmastime, and its inspirational message and rich illustrations are sure to bring the reader back again and again throughout the year.

There’s a theme with the books I’ve been reading lately, it seems. Maybe this is a problem that runs deeper with me than I thought, or maybe it has something to do with my love of psychology and humanity, but I have recently read several books about finding one’s purpose in life. And if I had any disillusions that the theme has continued into my most recent reading, the opening line Brother John has fixed that.

Uncertainty as to life’s purpose is much in vogue today.

Welp. There we have it. I’m just following the crowd.

But seriously. What is the current fascination with purpose all about? What is happening in society that we are all constantly worried about finding our place in life?

Turak examines these questions in his own way.

Brother John is the story of August Turak and an even that changed his life while at a retreat at Mepkin Abbey. His essay is only a few thousand words, so it seems unnecessary to go overly in depth in reviewing this book. It’s a well-written essay about an abbey that sounds beautiful. It is the story of a man who’s life was changed by a chance event on a rainy Christmas night.

Turak’s writing makes it sound very cinematic. I could picture this whole thing, a dark blue filter shading the scene. Rain gently tapping on the roof. A cold draft through the abbey. I could easily place myself into this story.

The thing that struck me most about Brother John however, are the amazing illustrations. What you may not know about me, dear reader, is that I am an artist. It’s one of the multitudes of things that I am exceptionally average at. But art brings me joy. Making art calms me and brings me peace.

I am in no way as skilled as Glenn Harrington, the artist who painted the illustrations for Brother John. These oil paintings are beautiful. They’re do detailed and moving. I have sat in awe over these paintings more than I’d care to admit. But how can you not? They’re amazing.

Glenn Harrington, a very accomplished artist in his own right, painted scenes from Mepkin Abbey and brought this essay to life in a beautiful and interesting way. The way be plays with light, his intention in his brush strokes, his use of color. I am in love with his artwork. I am in love with the way he combines abstraction and realism.

Brother John is only a few thousand words as I’ve said, but the illustrations in the book add to the depth and beauty of this book in a way that would make it a wonderful addition to any library. It would look especially beautiful on display for people to see. It is, in itself, a work of art.

Brother John goes on sale everywhere October 21, 2018. Order your copy now!

Plucky’s rating?

4/5 stars

Yours,

The Plucky Reader

Review – The Burn Zone: a Memoir by Renee Linnell

If you’re anything like me, you find the psychology of cults very interesting. I cannot tell you the amount of hours I have devoted to reading about Heaven’s Gate, Scientology, Children of God, and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Growing up, I had friends who were in a cult and I think that probably sparked the fascination I have with them today.

One thing I’ve never really considered, though, is how somebody gets lured into a cult. I mean, I’ve never really thought about it. And I’ve never really thought about the types of people who find themselves in cults.

I had to stop and evaluate these things before I read The Burn Zone: a Memoir by Renee Linnell. I had to figure out my own preconceptions about cult life before I read this memoir. I felt it would help me focus my reading. What I realized is if you were to ask me what kind of person falls into a cult, I’d tell you somebody who was weak, stupid, or both.

But ten seconds with Linnell’s memoir taught me otherwise.

After seven years of faithfully following her spiritual teacher, Renee Linnell finally realized she was in a cult and had been severely brainwashed. But how did that happen to someone like her? She had graduated magna cum laude with a double degree. She had traveled to nearly fifty countries alone before she turned thirty-five. She was a surf model and a professional Argentine tango dancer. She had started five different companies and had an MBA from NYU. How could someone like her end up brainwashed and in a cult?

The Burn Zone is an exploration of how we give up our power―how what started out as a need to heal from the loss of her parents and to understand the big questions in life could leave a young woman fighting for her sanity and her sense of self. In the years following her departure from the cult, Linnell struggled to reclaim herself, to stand in her truth, and to rebuild her life. And eventually, after battling depression and isolation, she found a way to come out the other side stronger than ever. Part inspirational story, part cautionary tale, this is a memoir for spiritual seekers and those who feel lost in a world that makes them feel less than perfect.

When I was contacted about reading and reviewing this book, I jumped at the opportunity. This rang all of my bells. I was so ready for this book. I waited in anticipation for its arrival to my mailbox.

When I opened it and began reading, I realized I was not ready at all. I was not ready for how real and raw Linnell was going to be. I was not ready for the amount of heartache that was going to be in this book. I was not prepared for Linnell’s skill as a writer, either. What I’m telling you is there was no way to prepare me for what was in this book.

Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

If Dr. Angelou is any judge (and she is) then I cannot imagine Linnell’s agony as she wrote this story. Recently the hosts of my favorite podcast announced they were writing a memoir. They mentioned how painful it was to dig up old wounds and to explore them again. My main takeaway from this book and Linnell as a writer is how incredibly strong and brilliant she is.

In most book reviews, I tell you about the plot of the book. I tell you about characters and plot devices. But The Burn Zone is a memoir, and therefore not my story to tell. Instead, I will talk about the journey this book took me on. And what a journey it was.

The Burn Zone spoke directly to my heart. Linnell is open about the pain and struggles of her past that are so familiar to me, they could very well have been my own problems. From the preface through the entire book, Linnell comments on the human condition and our overwhelming need to be accepted and to have a purpose.

She opens with a Chinese folktale that was so beautiful, I stopped reading to share it with my friends. I had never heard this tale before and I had to share it immediately. It was all about finding acceptance. This little tale set the tone for the entire book. Her preface ends with a call to action, just to make sure she drives her point home.

Embrace your skeletons in the closet. Pull them out and paint them pink. Celebrate them. Your skeletons are probably the most interesting part about you. Your difference is your destiny.

As a narrative, The Burn Zone is presented in a very interesting way. The story is woven in a broken timeline. It alternates between telling the story of how Linnell was lured into the cult, and stories from the time before. I love this style of narrative in fiction and nonfiction. I’m attracted to a non-linear timeline. Every time one of the vignettes ended, I wanted to know more about what I’d just read, but I was also intrigued by the new story that came next. It kept me turning page after page to read everything she had written.

The writing of this book is fantastic. It’s so visual and descriptive; I really felt as if I were there, experiencing everything through my own eyes. From descriptions of beautiful, blue, dolphin-filled waters to pink-purple deserts, I was transported across the world with Linnell. I found myself–on more than one occasion–envious of Linnell’s life. I was never able to travel like she had. I was never afforded the same amazing opportunities of surfing and dancing and life. If she were to write a travel memoir of just the places she’d visited, I’d swallow it whole.

Reading her experiences in the cult, however, was a much different experience. I felt my heart ache. I more than once told her to stop what she was doing. I wrote in the margins notes about the ways that brain washers function. It was all too real. It was a slow fade and, as a third-party observer easy to track. But I spent my time in this book, trying to put myself in her shoes. I tried to understand how this could happen to somebody so brilliant and strong. Not because I thought I was different, but because I know I’m exactly the same.

All anybody wants in this life is to belong. All anybody wants is to be accepted and valued. And in times when I hurt the most, and I can think of a few, it would have been just as easy for my to slip away and lose myself to somebody else’s identity, just to feel accepted and welcome. I wonder if my narrative would have been much different if I were in her shoes.

I began to realize my story had worth.

This truly is–as the jacket copy states–a story of empowerment and a cautionary tale. This is an important story. This is a strong story. This is a story of how easy it is to lose yourself entirely in an attempt to find yourself. But more importantly, this is Renee Linnell’s story. This is the story of one woman who lived through hell and came out on the other side, broken down and rebuilt by flames.

The Burn Zone: a Memoir is an incredible, heavy, wonderful book. It is as much commentary on the human condition as it is a personal, heartbreaking story. I highly recommend it to anybody interested in psychology, survivor stories, and stories of strong, empowered women. It goes on sale everywhere October 9. Pre-order your copy now!

Plucky’s rating?
5/5 stars

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

About the Author:
Renee Linnell is a serial entrepreneur who has founded and cofounded five companies and has an Executive Masters in Business Administration from New York University. Currently she is working on starting a publishing company to give people from diverse walks of life an opportunity to tell their stories. She divides her time between Colorado and Southern California.

Review – The Storm Runner by J. C. Cervantes

Watermark_ByTailorBrandsSome time ago, I read that Rick Riordan was opening his own publishing imprint. As an avid reader of Riordan’s work, I was pumped. The more I read, the more excited I got. Not only was he starting an imprint, he was going to use this imprint and his influence to publish original middle-grade works by authors of color.

His goal, as he has stated on his own website, is to publish authors of various cultural backgrounds to retell the stories of their mythologies, the way he has with Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology.

I love few things the way I love a modern retelling of an ancient culture or mythology. I gobbled up the Percy Jackson books like they were candy. I swallowed up The Kane Chronicles whole. The Heroes of Olympus books held me captivated. And I’m not typically a serial reader. But these series were all so entrancing and wonderfully, brilliant delivered.

So to find out that Riordan was searching for storytellers who were able to pen the stories of their individual cultures made me giddier than I’d care to admit.

This weekend, I had the pleasure of reading the second book from Rick Riordan’s new imprint, The Storm Runner by J. C. Cervantes.

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Zane Obispo spends every day exploring the sleeping volcano in his backyard. “The Beast,” as he calls it, is the one place where he can escape other kids, who make fun of him because he has a limp and walks with a cane.

After a twin-engine plane crashes into The Beast, a mysterious girl named Brooks shows up at Zane’s doorstep, insisting that they meet at the volcano, where she will reveal a terrible secret. Zane agrees, mostly because beautiful girls like her don’t usually talk to him. Brooks tells him that the volcano is actually a centuries-old prison for the Maya god of death, whose destiny is directly tied to Zane’s. No way, Zane thinks.He’s just a thirteen-year old nobody, and destiny or no destiny,he wants nothing to do with any of it, especially some god of death.

But Brooks opens his eyes to the truth: magic, monsters, and gods are real, and Zane is at the center of an ancient prophecy that could mean the destruction of the world.Suddenly finding himself entangled in a web of dangerous secrets, Zane embarks on a quest that will take him far from home and test him to the very core.

Feisty heroes, tricky gods, murderous demons, and spirited giants are just some of the pleasures that await in this fresh and funny take on Maya mythology, as rich and delicious as a mug of authentic hot chocolate.

There is hardly a more likable character than Zane Obispo. He’s so endearing. And injured. And I don’t mean his limp. He’s injured by the world. He’s jaded from the problems that face a young boy who has a limp in a world where children are cruel. His affinity for his old neighbors is adorable. I mean. Seriously, I was sold on this kid from the very beginning.

Not only is Zane basically the most lovable character in all of fiction (beat out only by Wilbur because, let’s face it, pigs are better than anything) he’s surrounded by a lovable cast of characters. From the old people he loves, to his quirky uncle, to his Mom, and his new friend Brooks, this ensemble cast of characters captured my heart.

After Zane witnesses a plane crash into the volcano near his house, Zane’s world is turned upside down. He is thrust into a world full of terrifying monsters and action and adventure. And Zane learns that he must save all of humankind, alongside his shape-shifting friend, Brooks, and his Uncle Hondo.

This book is packed with action and adventure. I literally gasped on more than one occasion while reading. Unlike my last two reviews, I am not sad that I read this book quickly, at all. I am sad that I could not read it quickly enough. I didn’t want to put it down, and I couldn’t get Zane out of my head whenever I wasn’t reading.

This book may be classified as a middle grade novel, but it explores big concepts. It explores the true power and strength of a boy seen by society as broken and injured. It explores what it really takes for a young boy to realize his true potential.

The writing is wonderful. The characters are lovely. The story is enchanting. And for me, personally, the source material of Mayan mythology is so interesting. I have always loved reading about Mayan culture, for as far back as I can remember.

If you’re looking for a good read for the entire family, I highly, highly recommend The Storm Runner by J. C. Cervantes.

Plucky’s rating?

4 /5 stars.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

Note: I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine and were not influenced in any way by the publisher or author.

Review – Fresh Ink edited by Lamar Giles

Several months ago, I received an ARC for this anthology, Fresh Ink. It’s been sitting in my Kindle for far longer than I’d care to admit. I remember reading the description and thinking it sounded so interesting and, well, fresh. And then, I guess I just forgot about it.

Recently I was roaming the shelves of Barnes & Noble (because, you know, I don’t have enough books to read at my house, sitting on a shelf, unread and gleaming for my attention), when I saw Fresh Ink sitting on the shelves.

I always feel so happy when I see the ARCs I’ve receive come to fruition as books on the shelf. It’s not a pride–it’s not like I discovered them or anything. But it’s so nice to seem them out and published and able to be in people’s hands. Usually, though, I also finish the ARC before it’s on the shelves. So, to make sure my joy was appropriately placed, I dusted off my Kindle and read my way through this anthology of short stories.

I was pleasantly surprised when I started this collection. I expected a typical collection of short stories. This was no typical collection of short stories. As the information clearly states (I’m just not a very thorough reader sometimes) this collection is told in nontraditional ways. There are short stories by new, diverse authors. But there’s also a one-act play. And a graphic story.

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I, personally, love graphic novels. I’ve added a ton of them to my classroom collection lately, and I totally support my students reading them. It was a nice change of pace when this one appeared.

From the first story, the tone of this collection is set. Fresh Ink opens with “Eraser Tattoo,” the story of first love and lost love. Two teenagers must say goodbye to their first loves. The story takes the reader through a series of flashbacks, as well as the present, to tell the story of unequal love. Something in the way Jason Reynolds tells this story is so real about the way teenagers love.

Other authors include Melissa de la Cruz (of Descendants and Witches of East End fame) and Nicola Yoon (author of The Sun is Also a Star and Everything, Everything). Sadly, I am not familiar with the writing of most of these authors. Which is exactly the purpose of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement co-founded by the editor of this collection, Lamar Giles.

All in all, I enjoyed my time with Fresh Ink. I wish, much as I said about I’d Rather Be Reading that I’d savored this book a little more. It’s a wonderful book rife with unique voices and diverse points of view. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Fresh Ink. My only disappointment was that it ended too quickly and had far too few stories.

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Plucky’s rating? 4 stars.

It is definitely worth the read.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

Book Tour – I’d Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel

Today is an exciting day as I get to be part of Anne Bogel’s release tour for her new book, Reading People: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life, which will be released September 4, 2018.

Last year, I was chosen to be part of Anne’s launch team for her first book, Reading People, and that experience is what prompted me to launch The Plucky Reader. Having the opportunity to support her second book–after having been so inspired her in the past–is an incredible opportunity. But being chosen as part of her Book Tour is an even greater honor.

I’d Rather Be Reading could very well be the title of my autobiography. I say this phrase at least six times a day. I think it probably several hundred times more. And if you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve had this thought a time or two.

I’d Rather Be Reading is an essay collection, and to be honest, it’s the first essay collection I’ve read. It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve developed a love of nonfiction, memoir, and essays. Reading once had been my escape from this world, but it has slowly evolved into a way for me to view different facets of the world, instead.

Reading isn’t just a way to pass time–it’s a lifestyle. Books shape, define, and enchant us. They are part of who we are and we can’t imagine life without them. In this collection of charming and relatable reflections, beloved book blogger and author Anne Bogel leads you to remember the book that first hooked you, the place where you first fell in love with reading, and all the books and moments afterward that helped make you the reader you are today.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you can see how this book would resonate with me. I have written about the book that made me fall in love with reading, and I remember all the places I’ve read my favorite book. The marks books leave are indelible, and I can remember every one I’ve read, all of them like the memories of old friends.

Old books, like old friends, are good for the soul.

In Bogel’s essay, “Again, for the first time,” she discusses the power of rereading a great book. As a notorious rereader, it’s refreshing to hear of the power of rereading through someone else’s eyes. She points out the magic of knowing the ending, the power of knowing a character’s true intentions. The first time you read a story, you’re discovering something brand new. But the second time, third time, fourth time, you’re seeing the small things, the nuances that lead to the story, the motivation of the characters, the arc of the storyline well before it’s revealed itself. It’s a beautiful experience.

Bogel’s essays speak the hearts of readers. From “Confess Your Literary Sins” to “Bookworm Problems” to “How to Organize Your Bookshelves” they are real and beautifully written and relevant to the heart of every reader. Her writing is conversational and familiar. It’s like having a conversation with a friend. It’s easy to connect with.

I often relate reading to food (my other great passion in this world), and in this case, I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life is dessert. But not something light, not a fruit salad to be gobbled up all at once. No. It’s something rich and buttery, something heavy with ganache. It’s something to be savored, not devoured all at once. It’s a small book, the essays read quickly, but I can’t imagine blowing through this book in one sitting, it needs time and attention.

Pick this book up! It’s beautifully written and beautifully designed. The perfect little book to keep beside your bed and read an essay before sleep.

Order it before September 4th for some amazing pre-order bonuses, including:

  • FREE digital download of the audio version of the book, read by the author
  • Access to Anne Bogel’s class “7 Ways to Get More Out of your Reading Life,” a live class recorded on August 2. The recording is available for all preorders.
  • Beautiful digital artwork of the book

You can access these preorder bonuses on the I’d Rather Be Reading website.

Plucky’s Rating?

5/5 Stars

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

Full disclosure: As a member of the I’d Rather Be Reading launch team, I received a copy of this beautiful book (now I’m talking design-wise, the cover is beautiful), along with some other beautiful promotional items. I’d like to thank Anne Bogel and the I’d Rather Be Reading team for including me in her launch and her book tour.

Anne Bogel is the creator of the popular blog Modern Mrs. Darcy and the podcast What Should I Read Next? Her book lists and reading guides have established Bogel as a tastemaker among readers, authors, and publishers. The author of Reading People, she lives in Louisville, Kentucky.

Review – Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno

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This weekend, I had the immense pleasure of reading a soon-to-be-released book. One of my favorite things about book blogging is getting to read amazing books before they come out, and Sarno’s Just Under the Clouds is exactly that.

Always think in threes and you’ll never fall, Cora’s father told her when she was a little girl. Two feet, one hand. Two hands, one foot. That was all Cora needed to know to climb the trees of Brooklyn.

But now Cora is a middle schooler, a big sister, and homeless. Her mother is trying to hold the family together after her father’s death, and Cora must look after her sister, Adare, who’s just different, their mother insists. Quick to smile, Adare hates wearing shoes, rarely speaks, and appears untroubled by the question Cora can’t help but ask: How will she find a place to call home?

After their room at the shelter is ransacked, Cora’s mother looks to an old friend for help, and Cora finally finds what she has been looking for: Ailanthus altissima, the “tree of heaven,” which can grow in even the worst conditions. It sets her on a path to discover a deeper truth about where she really belongs.

Just Under the Clouds will take root in your heart and blossom long after you’ve turned the last page.

Just Under the Clouds is middle-grade fiction, which I don’t usually read, but as I’m switching out of the music room and into the English classroom, I’m making a concerted effort to fix that. And something I’ve realized as I’m making that effort? A good book is a good book–regardless of its intended audience–is a good book.

Just Under the Clouds intrigued me from the start. Cora’s voice is authentic. It feels real and it feels like the voice of a young teenager/preteen.  So often in fiction, children speak too much like adults. I’m guilty of this in my own writing, as well. But as someone who spends several hours a day with teenagers, I know how teens should talk. I know the thoughts that young teens have every day. I know how they function. And it’s clear that Sarno does, as well. (Or she has a really good editor. But I’m going to give Sarno the credit here.)

Cora’s story is sad. From the opening of the book it’s sad and heavy and there is little hope. Cora finds the beautiful things in life and in nature, but at the end of the day, it’s apparent that Cora and her family are returning home to a shelter, to temporary housing. Cora is still mourning the death of her father. Cora isn’t doing well in school. And she is forced to play surrogate parent to her younger sister with an unstated mental exceptionality. (I assume she is on the autism spectrum, but it’s never explicitly stated.) It was tough to read, even as an adult. But it was important.

Something I really love about Just Under the Clouds is that it’s a story that needs to be told. It’s important to be told. Sarno has given a voice to people who don’t typically have a voice in fiction. And she’s done it masterfully. She’s done it artfully. And she’s done it in such a way that the readers are able to put themselves in Cora’s shoes. The reader is able to feel empathy—not pity—for Cora and her family.

“Home is more than a place. It is a feeling. Of warmth and security. Of love and stability. That no matter what we face out there, in here, we will always be looked after.”

The opening letter of this book—written by Julia Maguire, an editor at Knopf—tells the reader from the beginning that this book is about finding home. And that home is about a lot more than just having somewhere to sleep at night. This, alone, is an important lesson for anybody to learn. As a teacher, I know many, many students who do not feel at home in their own houses. Safety, security, and stability are just as important as having a roof over your head.

Just Under the Clouds opens in the middle of Cora’s story, which is something I really love. I love when the book opens and the reader is thrown into the fray of day-to-day life. I don’t like exposition. I don’t like back story. Eventually I want it, but not at once. I want to love the characters before I learn why they’re the people that they are.

Cora starts the book in a tree, watching her little sister, Adare. When her mother calls, she quickly descends and prepares to meet her mom, with Adare in tow. Except Adare is holding her breath and refuses to let it out. From Cora’s commentary, it appears that this is a regular occurrence. And this is a theme that runs throughout the book. The breath holding is important and it matters.

Another thing I love about Sarno’s writing is how everything matters. Everything in this story is important and returns later. She’s very much like J.K. Rowling that way. She’s a very smart storyteller.

As the story unfolds, we see Cora fail math. This is not uncommon in students—even brilliant students—whose needs aren’t being met. Maslow theorized that students had to have their needs of food and security and stability met before any learning could take place. And after seven years in the classroom, I believe he was onto something.

We also see Cora make her first true friend, a drifter of a very different nature named Sabina. Sabina grew up on a houseboat, floating from port to port, existing in her family unit and never attending public school. Her life is very unlike Cora’s. Her life is very like Cora’s.

Just Under the Clouds is peppered with little hints of the issues that come with homelessness, issues that don’t occur to most people. In the middle of the story, Adare and Cora are enjoying an after-school snack. When Adare doesn’t finish her peanut better, Cora feels obligated to eat it, merely so it won’t go to waste. This very subtle detail hit me hard. This is real life. And this is real life every day for students I come into contact with daily.

This is daily life for hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. It’s heartbreaking.

But stories like this offer hope.

I’m excited to stock this book in my classroom library. Many of my students have never considered what life is like on “the other side.” Most of the students I teach have never been homeless or had want for anything. They’ve never missed a meal or spent a night in temporary housing. And that’s okay. But because they’ve never had these experiences, chances are they’ve never reflected on experiences like this. It’s their privilege.

Before anybody gets their feathers ruffled: yes, I believe in privilege. I believe I’m privileged. I believe that everybody has varying degrees of privilege. And I think it’s important to understand and identify our innate privilege. Everybody’s is different. Everybody’s brings something unique and special to our society.

But it’s there. It’s real. It’s a thing that has to be acknowledged. It’s so well-written; it will make a great read for any middle grade reader, or a fantastic read aloud to younger readers. Take this opportunity to educate yourself and your children about the issues that others face.

I’m excited to share this book with you and with my students. I think Sarno has told a story that’s important.

Just Under the Clouds by Melissa Sarno will be available June 5, 2018 at all major book retailers. Pick yourself up a copy ASAP.

Plucky’s rating?

4 out of 5 stars.

Review – Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

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Today, I am sitting in a lovely little coffeeshop between a rehearsal and a performance. I think I have spent more time, collectively, in coffee shops than anywhere else in my entire life. And I’m perfectly okay with this fact.

Sitting today, I have a little time to reflect the book that I finished yesterday.

Call Me By Your Name is not a book I would describe as lovely. (Which is shocking, I know. That’s my standard adjective for a book I love.) But it was a beautiful, moving, and touching story.

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I didn’t know really anything about this book going into it. I knew that it had been recently made into a film. I knew that it was considered for a lot of awards. And that’s the extent of my knowledge. Needless to say, I was not prepared for the emotional onslaught that came as I read this book.

Call Me By Your Name is the tale of Elio, a young Italian boy whose family owns a villa where they host writers who are working on new works. The writer of this summer is a beautiful man named Oliver with whom Elio is nearly immediately smitten. Immediately, the age gap between the two is noticeable. It’s a chasm that seems insurmountable when the book opens. Elio is 17 while Oliver is 24.

The book that follows is about the relationship these two men develop. It’s not your typical romance novel, and it really is like nothing else I’ve reviewed from this blog. It is intense. It’s about the intense emotions people feel when they first discover true sexuality and infatuation. It was about lust and raw attraction.

But it was also about the 80s. And about life in the 80s. And about being gay in the 80s.

Not so spoiler alert: Oliver and Elio do get together in this book. And they must do so in secret. It is the 80s, after all, and the world was not nearly as accepting of homosexuality as it is today (which is saying a lot, considering how non-accepting some place still are.)

But so much of this novel is just awkward. I read most of this book with an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. Part of it, I’m sure, is my very conservative view of sex. I am a good, southern boy after all. Sex should only be euphemized; never discussed directly. (I know. I’m bizarre. But that’s not a secret to me.)

Part of it is the apparent age gap. There is a huge difference between a 17-year-old and a 24-year-old. At those ages, seven years seems like a generation of difference, even if Elio is the most mature teenager who’s ever existed.

Elio seems to obsess over Oliver for much of the novel. For all of the novel, in fact. And I get it. I can remember being unable to shake feelings I’ve had about people. It was real, too real. I never want to relive adolescence again. (I mean, seriously, I teach teenagers every day. I never want to relive adolescence.) But Call Me By Your Name made me do so in a nearly tangible way. I could connect with Elio and understand what he was feeling.

Unfortunately, Call Me Be Your Name does not tie up in a sweet little boy. Every string is still dangling. Ever knot is undone. And that is hard for me. I want more closure than this book offers.

All this seems like a bad review, right? But no. I loved it. It made me uncomfortable. It made me queasy. But it was a great book. It was a wonderful read. It was thought-provoking. It was modern stream of consciousness and it was twisted and it was different for me.

It’s not a book that’s for everybody, but I’m definitely grateful that I read it.

Plucky’s rating?

4/5 stars

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

Review – The Mothers by Brit Bennett

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This weekend, I spent a few hours with a good book, a few cups of tea, and a warm blanket. This kind of ultimate relaxation is rare for me; I work the equivalent of two jobs and I’m usually too ADHD to sit still and read a book straight through for any length of time.

But something about the end of spring break prompted me to get in one more book and to make the most of it. So naturally, I read a really relaxing, not at all emotionally taxing book about nothing heavy or deep at all. Because I’m known for reading really chill reads. Or, you know, I read a very heavy, amazingly written book that almost made me cry, but not quite.

I’m sure I’ve spoken about this before, but I love heavy books. I want a book to make me cry. I want my world to be shattered, broken, swept up, glued back together in a different way, and to change completely because I’ve read a book. There’s something beautiful about a book that inspires this deep, painful, visceral reaction. I want a book to make me cry. I’m a literary masochist, what can I say?

Trigger warning: This book and this review openly discuss abortion, as it is central to the plot of this novel.

So this weekend, I chilled out with Brit Bennett’s The Mothers: A Novel.

The Mothers, at its surface is about a young girl, Nadia, who’s dealing with life after the death of her mother. It chronicles the relationship of 17-year-old Nadia and 21-year-old Luke Sheppard, the pastor’s son. Early in the book, Nadia discovers that she is pregnant. Nadia decides to have an abortion and asks Luke to pay for it. The story that follows is a tale of love and loss and heartbreak and female friendship. It’s a story of what could have been and what might be. It’s complex, with all the characters being so closely tied together, it’s hard to tell where one begins and another ends. I love storylines that are interwoven like that.

The most interesting part of this book, in my opinion, is the Greek chorus of church ladies who open each chapter. These women are The Mothers of the church. They watch from a distance and assess the situation and gossip about the people in the church. They are pseudo-narrators of the novel, piecing together the events of the story just too late. The Mothers help propel the story forward by filling in the gaps left by events of the story.

Something else I love about this book is the timeline. The story starts when Nadia is 17 years old and doesn’t conclude until she is in her thirties.  I love extended timelines. (I also love really condensed timelines, like 24 hours.) I love that we get to see how the events from the beginning effect the rest of Nadia and Luke’s entire lives. I love that we see how their lives push apart and pull together several times in their lives.

I loved the writing style of this book. I loved how easy it was to read and how captivating the storyline was. I also love that I never fell in love with Nadia. I regularly say that I don’t have to like a character to want to know their story, and this is a prime example. Nadia is not necessarily a forgivable or likable character, and neither is Luke. In fact, the only redeeming character, in my opinion, is Aubrey. I’d read more about Aubrey, were that an option.

Overall, The Mothers was a quick, deep, heart-wrenching read. It spoke on important themes–like the destructive nature of secrets–and provided a commentary on abortion, both the internal complexities of it and the societal views. It was enthralling; it was a page turner. It was a wonderful read to end Spring Break with.

There are obviously some trigger warnings to accompany this book. This book deals closely with abortion and there are suggestions of violence. But this book is totally worth the read.

I hope you’ll give it a read!

Plucky’s Rating? 4.5 stars.

Yours,
The Plucky Reader

 

 

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Review – Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

This weekend, I had the immense pleasure of turning 30 and then immediately throwing out my back. It was exactly as much fun as you can imagine. Lying on the couch with no WiFi for hours on end until the repairman could come out. Staring into the void and pondering life’s great questions: Why are we here? Why do we love? Where does that other sock always disappear to?

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Bright side, my Kindle was fully charged and loaded with unread books. I’m way behind on my reading for the year–like I need to read eight books in three weeks to catch up behind–so I figured there was no time like the present.

In my muscle relaxer haze, I started Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire.

I’m going to caution you REAL fast. DO NOT READ THIS PARTICULAR BOOK ON A MUSCLE RELAXER. IT WILL NOT BE PRETTY. WHAT DID I DO?

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Every Heart a Doorway is a quick read. Seriously. An hour and a half to two hours, if you’re not also enjoying a technicolor joyride of pure, medicated bliss. If you do happen to be falling asleep every few pages, then it may take you longer.

The premise of the book is interesting and captivating and totally not my style, except that it has been recommended highly by literally every one of my favorite book podcasts.

Every Heart a Doorway is about a boarding school for children who have through doorways into other worlds. They have all found their own Narnias, Wonderlands, and 100 Acre Woods in which to dwell. They have also all been unceremoniously forced back into our world.

This school, run by Eleanor West, functions as a support group and rehabilitation center for the victims of Doorway travel. They are taught how to reintegrate with our world and how to deal with the loss of their Doors. The students are offered a loving environment surrounded by people like them, in which to recover from the experiences and learn how to deal with the shock of being sent back.

For a short book, it’s really a complex concept that was beautifully executed.

The story focuses on Nancy, a girl who has recently returned from The Hall of The Dead. From the beginning, the reader gets the sense that Nancy is desperate to return. Nancy is forced to room with a girl named Sumi who seems to be Nancy’s complete opposite. Nancy is describe as statue-like in her stillness, while Sumi is always in motion.

Just as Nancy starts to settle into the school, Sumi is murdered and dark events are set into motion.

Review

I really enjoyed Every Heart a Doorway. It was fast paced and concise. There’s something nice about concision, especially when you need a quick read. McGuire is very conservative with the details in this book and with the character selection of this book. While we get the feeling that the school has a fairly large student body, only the students who are directly involved in the story are mentioned. There are no wasted words for peripheral characters.

I was captivated by this premise. There was something very clinical about McGuire’s presentation of it. It almost read like an allegory for something greater, for some conversation about mental health. There were layers to this very short novel that made me want more, and somehow feel completely satisfied with what it gave me. Maybe that’s the muscle relaxers talking. But still, I loved every minute of it.

Plucky’s Rating?

3.5 stars. It was a fast, but not light read. It was a well-spent afternoon. Nothing life changing. Nothing world altering. But good.