Mailbox Monday: Proud

Mailbox Monday is a meme that’s currently hosted here.

This past week from Books-a-Million, I pre-ordered How Long ‘Til Black Future Month, a collection of sci-fi short stories by N.K. Jemisin, which doesn’t come out until November  27th. Since I had a coupon, I thought I’d go ahead a see if there was another book I wanted. Right as I decided there wasn’t and I should go ahead with my one book pre-order, I saw B.A.M. was also selling autographed copies of Proud: My Fight for an Unlikely American Dream by Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammed. I don’t know a lot about fencing, but Muhammed’s story sounded interesting and unique – plus signed copy!

36589118I was really surprised when Proud showed up a few days later, because in my mind they wouldn’t ship until Black Future Month is released. So I got a nice treat last week.

Here’s the blurb:



Growing up in New Jersey as the only African American Muslim at school, Ibtihaj Muhammad always had to find her own way. When she discovered fencing, a sport traditionally reserved for the wealthy, she had to defy expectations and make a place for herself in a sport she grew to love.

From winning state championships to three-time All-America selections at Duke University, Ibtihaj was poised for success, but the fencing community wasn’t ready to welcome her with open arms just yet. As the only woman of color and the only religious minority on Team USA’s saber fencing squad, Ibtihaj had to chart her own path to success and Olympic glory.

Proud is a moving coming-of-age story from one of the nation’s most influential athletes and illustrates how she rose above it all.


YA Mental Health Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet

I read The Stars Beneath Our Feet by  David Barclay Moore directly after reading My Review of The Boy in the Black Suit, which I think was a mistake. They both deal with the loss of a close family member so I kept comparing the books to one another, to the detriment of The Stars Beneath Our Feet. This book was slower paced and had simpler language*. However, in hindsight I don’t think the book was worse. I think it was aimed at and appropriate for a different audience. In the future, I’ll have to alternate the topics of focus for the YA mental health books I’m reading.

*Simpler language may not be completely fair. I appreciated that Moore included and defined some complex words for the reader. Apparently, he has a linguistic/language background, which showed and add something special to this story when it was included.

34057229While I feel The Boy in the Black Suit is better suited for high school readers, The Stars Beneath Our Feet is definitely more for middle school readers (or  stronger elementary school readers). The story centers on Lolly, who is grieving the death of his brother who was killed in a gang-related shooting.

There are quite a few interesting details that I think helped flesh out the “realness” of the story, including:

  1. The story takes place in New York and regularly uses street and building/area names to orient its scenes.
  2. Lolly is being raised by his mother and her girlfriend.
  3. Lolly befriends a girl who is otherwise shunned by their peers, and we later find out she is on the Autism Spectrum.

Like The Boy in the Black Suit, this is another book that I wouldn’t necessarily bring out when working directly with a student, but I absolutely would recommend it to a student who was grieving in a “non-traditional way”. Lolly channels his grief in two ways 1) by building a city with Lego (hence the awesome cover), and 2) by getting angry and fighting. Both of these are “safer” ways to cope until he is eventually able to get his sadness out (i.e., cry) over his brother’s death. It’s fairly common for children and teens to react with anger and aggression when they are grieving or depressed. Anger is externalizing; it out gives us something outside ourselves to focus on and blame or attack, rather than focusing on the thing inside ourselves that’s really in pain. Ideally, the externalizing gives us the time needing to postpone dealing with the real internal problem until we’re able to deal with it effectively (but obviously that doesn’t always happen…). Anger and aggression, in particular, can also give us a sense of power in a situation that otherwise makes us feel powerless and therefore vulnerable.

One of Lolly’s friends also experiences a loss, although this is a more abstract loss of power as he is bullied and robbed by a local gang trying to recruit his cousin. This friend reacts with anger and isolation until he is also able to grieve his loss and powerlessness. I really liked this subplot and thought it added a neat nuance to story, although I’m not 100% sure that younger readers will take away the message that I did without some guidance (I assuming I’m even taking away the right message!)

YA Mental Health Review: The Boy in the Black Suit

21490991The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds tells the story of Matt who, while grieving the loss of his mother, gets a job at a funeral home that helps him cope with his feelings and loss. I actually finished this almost a month ago and in hindsight, I should have written my review more immediately. I wanted to give myself some time to think about my critique, but I think I’ve forgotten some of the nuances that I wanted to talk about and unfortunately the copy I read was from my school’s library, so I’ve returned it. Bottom line: would I recommend this to students who are dealing with grief and loss? Yes!

Given that Matt is a older high schooler, this book is better suited for high schoolers than middle schoolers, more for the complexity of the emotions than anything else. I really liked how Jason Reynolds works through Matt’s grief. It was subtle at first, and he initially came off emotionally numb or possibly unemotional. As he works at the funeral home and encounters other grievers like him, the layers of his emotionality are peeled back.

However, I think what I found the most interesting and might be the most helpful for students who may be grieving, is that many characters are grieving the loss of family members and they all experience and express their grief in different ways. They’re all also at different stages of their grief, with one character having lost his wife several decades earlier whereas other characters’ losses, like Matt’s, are more recent. I think this would be a good lesson for students to see that there is no one way to respond to the loss of a loved one, which is a conversation that I’ve had with students who felt like they should be bawling their eyes out after the death of a close relative but they just aren’t.

I don’t know that there was anything in there that I would pull out and use directly in a session with a student, unlike My Review of The Memory of Light, but I would definitely recommend it to students who have lost a close family member. Especially students who are struggling to understand their grief, who feel alone in their loss, or that they aren’t grieving in the “right way”.

Top 5 Tuesday: Top 5 Fantasy

Top 5 Tuesday is hosted by the Bionic Bookworm.

Here are my Top 5 Fantasy series, in no particular order (I know it doesn’t say series, but it just so happened they all were):

  1. Harry Potter
  2. Chronicles of Narnia
  3. Lord of the Rings (& The Hobbit & The Silmarillion)
  4. Discworld
  5. The Enchanted Forest Chronicles

The first three on this list came to me immediately when I thought about my favorite fantasy stories, which is why they’re first. I sort of feel like they’re obvious answers, but since I thought of them before anything else, they go on the list. All three have considerable world building, epic stories (Harry Potter to a lesser degree than Narnia and LotR with their multi-generational, multi-era stories), and have stayed with me long after reading them, even if I may or may not have had issues with them. That last point may be a reason for them to be on the list. Any flaws they have did not seem significant enough while I was reading to take away from the fantastic aspects of the stories or their enjoyability of them as reads*. Unfortunately, for me, that isn’t the case with every fantasy book; I’ve had a create a Goodreads shelf for books that had interesting premises but disappointing executions. Sometimes, it seems, fantasy stories rely so heavily on the fun of the fantastical that they forgot to also provide a compelling story that could stand on its own.

*I might change my mind about Narnia. I loved them when I read them as a kid, but I know there’s criticism surrounding sexist and racist elements in the stories. I’d have to re-read them to a form a more solid opinion on whether or not I agree with these criticisms, but I could see any sort of bigotry in Narnia as being a reason why it might get knocked off my list. And replaced by His Dark Materials series by Phillip Pullman, one of Lewis’ biggest critics. The only reason that series didn’t make it on the list is I’ve only read the first one, The Golden Compass. (So I guess it’s my honorable mention.)

I should be embarrassed to say that I did NOT immediately think of the Discworld series, and needed to go to my Goodreads Fantasy shelf to remind myself that, oh yeah, this is one of my favorite series containing some of my favorite books, period. I also didn’t immediately remember the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, but when I saw the first book on my list I remembered just how much I love it and how classic it felt, as far as clever, determined female protagonists in semi-comical fantasy-scapes go.

Mailbox Mondays: 3 Books from Book of the Month Club

Mailbox Mondays is hosted by Marcia of To Be Continued.

I joined/subscribed to the Book of the Month club at the start of this year as way to broaden my reading horizons. Each month, a panel of readers five books that you can choose from to have one shipped to you. If you’re not interested in any books that month, you can chose to skip the month and you’re given a credit that can be used to get extra books in future months. These include new BotM books, as well as books from months that have already passed (if still in stock). While there have been a one or two months when I’ve not been interested in any books, most months there’s a least one books that interests me and there have been several months where multiple books have caught my eye.

39049255For September, none of the books immediately jumped out as ones I was DYING to read, but several at least intrigued me. I ultimately decided to chose the intriguing one that was the most out of my reading comfort zone (since I am trying to use this to broaden my reading horizons): #fashionvictim by Amina Akhtar. This book I initially dismissed as one I wouldn’t be interested in (yes, I judged it by it’s #cover). Then I read a snippet that was available on the BotM website and enjoyed the narrator’s voice, so I decided to take a chance with it. It is the shortest BotM book I’ve gotten yet, so it should be a quick read.

Here’s the synopsis:

“Darkly satisfying.”—Martha Stewart Living
“A diabolical page-turner . . . impossible to put down.”—Forbes
“Darkly funny.”—Fashionista
“As awesome as it sounds.”—Book Riot

A thrilling take on the fashion world, #FashionVictim is Dexter meets The Devil Wears Prada.

Fashion editor Anya St. Clair is on the verge of greatness. Her wardrobe is to die for. Her social media is killer. And her career path is littered with the bodies of anyone who got in her way. She’s worked hard to get where she is, but she doesn’t have everything.

Not like Sarah Taft. Anya’s obsession sits one desk away. Beautiful, stylish, and rich, she was born to be a fashion world icon. From her beach-wave blonde hair to her on-trend nail art, she’s a walking editorial spread. And Anya wants to be her friend. Her best friend. Her only friend.

But when Sarah becomes her top competition for a promotion, Anya’s plan to win her friendship goes into overdrive. In order to beat Sarah…she’ll have to become her. Friendly competition may turn fatal, but as they say in fashion: One day you’re in, and the next day you’re dead.

Since I had credits to apply to additional books, I got two more. These were books that had been offered for months before I joined, and since they happen to be on my YA Mental Health To-Read list, I figured I should get them.

25062038Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert. The main character of this book has a step-brother who has bipolar disorder, so I’m hoping this will be a book I can recommend to students who have family members with bipolar disorder, or possibly to students who are learning to cope with it themselves.

Here’s the synopsis:

When Suzette comes home to Los Angeles from her boarding school in New England, she isn’t sure if she’ll ever want to go back. L.A. is where her friends and family are (along with her crush, Emil). And her stepbrother, Lionel, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, needs her emotional support.

But as she settles into her old life, Suzette finds herself falling for someone new…the same girl her brother is in love with. When Lionel’s disorder spirals out of control, Suzette is forced to confront her past mistakes and find a way to help her brother before he hurts himself–or worse.

35504431Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. I’ve never read a John Green novel before, but my school’s library has been talking this one up to me for a while. It focuses on a character with OCD and anxiety, and John Green pulled from his own experiences with OCD and anxiety to write it. I imagine this will be one that gets put on my ‘recommend to students’ list, but I need to read it to be sure.

Here’s the synopsis:

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.


Picture #2: Romantic Scene

With this picture, I think I’ll write a scene with a romantic atmosphere rather than an actual romance. Which makes me realize I don’t think I’ve ever written a romantic atmosphere, alone, before, but that’s why I’m trying all these different scenes with the same photo. Practice, practice, practice.


The snow fell in steady sheets and covered the earthen path like a lace blanket. The branches of the wintering woods reached into the air, their bark lined with icicles that sparkled in the morning light. They had been frozen in time as if reaching out to embrace the warm love of the rising sun. Some shunned the woods in winter, but it was then that Mother Nature’s quiet tranquility was strongest. The air around seemed to hum with dormant life. With each step deeper into the wood, winter lace crunching rhythmically underfoot, both man and dog felt relaxed. Unburdened. A restful winter under icy protection would one day melt away and unleash vibrant new life.

Thrifty Thursday: Grave Mercy

Thrifty Thursday is a book meme hosted by Books of My Heart.

9565548Grave Mercy is the first book in the His Fair Assassin series, and as soon as I read it’s premise, I requested it from the library. However, since they got it for me so quickly, and I checked out several other books that day, and it’s the longest of those books (although it looks like it would be a quick read), I haven’t started it yet. I will soon, because I’ve winnowed down my library book pile, and I’m still just as interested in reading it as when I first requested it.

Here’s the premise:

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

I will say though, I didn’t realize it was a YA book until after I checked it out, which kind of disappointed me. I was expecting/hoping this story to be fairly dark and to also go with some depth into the place intrigue and deception that this books seems like it will have, which of course is possible in a YA book. My knee jerk reaction when I saw the library’s YA tag on its spine was that it wouldn’t and would probably focus more on the love interest hinted at the end of the above teaser. Hopefully, I’m wrong and it’s a healthy and successful mix of all those things!