Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Published by: Simon & Schuster in 1999 (original publication)
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Reuben St. Clair has given an extra credit assignment in his social studies class for years, asking students to come up with something they can do to change the world for the better. But never has he seen a student take the project as seriously as Trevor McKinney whose project, “Pay It Forward,” has wide-reaching and unexpected effects that create a national movement. The simplicity of Trevor’s idea makes it easy to achieve, and his dedication to seeing it through invigorates the project with a real spirit. But his dedication to its success might also blind him to the the actual successes it is achieving overall. In the end, this is a story about how a little extra kindness in our world can go a long way to make a difference for those we help but also stretch to people we have never even met.

I did really enjoy this book, but I must tell you it immediately made me dislike the film (I think I was only a chapter in . Unfortunately, the film is white-washed in a number of ways and important content that apparently wouldn’t play well to mainstream filmgoers at the time of the movie’s release (alcoholism, child abuse, LGBT characters, hate crimes, etc.) was written out of the film adaptation. And what’s sad is that the story is far less powerful for it. I do encourage people to read the book, even if you’ve seen the movie (and liked it or didn’t), as I think the story in its original form is impactful, inspiring, and interesting.

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shaun David Hutchinson

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley

The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley by Shawn David Hutchinson

Published by: Simon Pulse on January 20, 2015
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Andrew Brawley’s life changed forever in one night. His parents and sister dead, he found his only choice to remain in the hospital–but not as a patient. Drew sleeps in an empty supply closet, works in the cafeteria (being paid under the table), and befriends many of the long-term patients. His cover story is that he’s visiting his sick grandmother who is in a coma, and while many of the staff don’t necessarily believe it, they let it slide. And as long as he can steer clear of a too-inquisitive social worker, he knows he could keep this going for a while. But one night when he sees a young man brought in to the emergency room, apparently set on fire by his classmates, Drew is immediately drawn to the new patient. Drew feels for him, and in some ways he sees a kindred spirit. As he learns more about Rusty’s situation, and eventually gets to know him after he wakes him, Drew begins to wonder if there could be a potential future in which they might leave the hospital together. But before that can happen, Drew needs to face the demons that have kept him in the hospital in the first place–and those just might lead to the undoing of the life he has built.

I think the one word that stands out to me most after finishing this book would be “refreshing.” Drew is far from perfect. And the author does not try to hide or mask that in any way during this book. There is a realness to it that I don’t think I always get from young adult titles, and I found myself really connecting to the material and the characters as a result. An interesting and insightful read.

Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

Fool's Gold

Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

Series: The Dragon Lords, Book 1
Published by:
 Orbit on July 19, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

The Dragon Consortium does not represent what anyone might call benevolent rulers. Much the opposite, they demand outrageous taxes, oppress the people, and seem like they will only get worse as time goes on. But as long as one finds a way to pay the taxes and stay out of their way, they don’t have too much to worry about, right? That’s what Will Fallows thought until the dragon lord Mattrax’s soldiers appear on his doorstep demanding taxes he has already paid (and certainly cannot pay a second time). Threatened with the loss of his farm, a time in debtors’ prison, and the complete destruction of his future, Will manages to escape with his life, knowing he probably will not be able to outrun them for long. But Will happens upon two strapping adventurers in search of a fortune (Lette and Balur), a scholar with an interest in dragons (Quirk), and the old village drunk (Firkin), a plan unfolds to rob Mattrax and use the gold for everyone to find themselves a new life away from the Dragon Consortium. But plans do not always go to, well, plan, and the group quickly finds that they have taken on something that is more than any of them bargained for…

I will start off by saying that this is an entertaining and engaging read. It has all the elements of an epic fantasy, and I do know the story continues with another installment currently available. It’s definitely more of a party-as-protagonist type of story, though, as I would not identify any of the group as the main hero–they are all very much in it together for different reasons and with different challenges in front of them. There are little twists where things go wrong, and there are little twists where things go right in unexpected ways. And I found myself wondering as the book reached the end if everyone would actually make it out alive. You will just have to read to find out…

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Published by: Thomas Crowell on October 21, 1977
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Jess Aarons lives a simple life for a teenager, helping his parents with the chores, doing his schoolwork, and trying his best to become the fastest runner in school. When a new girl, Leslie Burke, moves in as his new neighbor, all of that changes. For one, Leslie turns out to be a rather fast runner herself. And together they invent Terabithia, an enchanted land that only they can get to or see in the woods near their homes. But fantasies can only last for so long, and a tragic accident shatters their world in a way that leaves Jess wondering if he can ever truly pick up the pieces.

I saw this movie a few years back, and it was one that I certainly enjoyed right away. The book provided an interesting comparison. The movie follows the book pretty well, though I think the book provides a little bit better sense of how Jess feels about his life and the people around him. It’s subtle, which I think is a testament to the way the author has developed the world and the characters, but it’s there. And, overall, I think it adds both to understanding Jess’s motivation and his reactions as we move through the book.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Days Without End

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

Published by: Viking on October 20, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Thomas McNulty is a seventeen-year-old Irish immigrant in the 1850s who decides to enlist in the U.S. Army. It’s not a first-choice sort of decision, but it’s also not like he has a lot of options. His best friend, John Cole, joins up with him, and the two serve as a rock for each other as they are faced with the trials of army life and the viciousness and hardships they must endure. Their lives before the army and after the army are what some might see as unusual, but for Thomas and John, it is what it is. And neither of them would have it any other way.

This is a challenging one to get into as it is written in Thomas’s voice, which is rather affected. But once I found myself getting into the groove of the narration and the story, I found that I really enjoyed Sebastian Barry’s method of storytelling. The adventures of John and Thomas are interesting (though there are some bleak and some violent moments), and they help illustrate the ideas of love and family–the importance of those concepts and the ways in which they can triumph over even some of the most dire circumstances.

The Case of the Insufferable Slave by Gillian St. Kevern

The Case of the Insufferable Slave

The Case of the Insufferable Slave by Gillian St. Kevern

Published by: Goodreads M/M Romance Group on June 25, 2014
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

In an alternate universe where the United States remains split between the North and the South, Private Detective Harry Flint is finally setting out on his own thanks to his benefactor, a major crime boss whose life he saved. Flint already feels as though he has taken more than he is comfortable with when a young slave, Friday, arrives at his doorstep as a “gift”. Flint has no intention of keeping Friday, but he also knows that he needs to tread lightly–the key word in crime boss is crime, after all. And when a case falls in Flint’s lap that Friday might be connected to, he finds even more reason to keep him close. The layers of danger that lurk for both of them are deeper and more complex than either could have imagined…and are just enough to draw them together in unexpected ways as well.

I was not quite sure what to think when I started this story, but I found myself pleasantly surprised as I worked my way through it. It reads like a classic detective story, and the images it painted in my mind were like a good old sepia caper. The twists and turns will keep you guessing, and the dynamic that builds between Flint and Friday pulls readers on their journey–understanding both sides of their situation.

Insight by Tasha Eurich

Insight

Insight: Why We’re Not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life by Tasha Eurich

Published by: Crown on May 2, 2017
Rating: 4 stars (★★★★☆)

Self-awareness has become somewhat of a buzzword in the business and education sectors. And it seems to make sense. After all, the way we work with others, the way we lead, and the way we work to deliver results all comes back to understanding who we are and how others perceive us. But self-awareness is not simply acquired through a little light introspection and then calling it good. As Tasha Eurich points out in this book, self-awareness is developed and refined over time, and it often involves doing some work that is uncomfortable and sometimes undesirable. But when one considers that leaders and teams who lack self-awareness consistency perform a much lower levels than those who exhibit healthier levels of self-awareness, it is something that cannot be ignored. The more self-aware individual is not only more productive and fulfilled at work, but they also tend to be happier outside of work and more likely to achieve their personal goals. Eurich provides a number of strategies that readers can use to develop their own self-awareness while also offering tactics for dealing with those we encounter in work and in life who are not self-aware (and especially those who have no apparent desire to get there, either).

[Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the book provided by the publisher via Blogging For Books.]

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Ninefox Gambit

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Series: The Machineries of Empire, Book 1
Published by:
 Solaris Books on June 14, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Captain Kel Cheris has been afforded an opportunity to redeem herself in the eyes of Kel Command. But the task before her, recapturing the Fortress of Scattered Needles from heretics, will not be easy. So she finds herself partnering (in a sense) with Shuos Jedeo, an undead tactician who reportedly went mad while he was alive–and on a madness-inspired murder spree. But what Jedeo brings to the mission may be exactly what Cheris needs to succeed. She just needs to figure out how much she can trust Jedeo–and how to make use of his expertise without letting him take over…

An epic space adventure if there ever was one. And the world that Yoon Ha Lee has created here is one that is quite intriguing. There is honestly a lot to keep track of, especially at first, but I would say it’s manageable for most astute readers. And it is a great examination of the question of taking risks, and determining which of those risks are necessary in order to succeed. Is it worth introducing more danger to an already dangerous situation on the chance that it may be the only way to get through to the other side?

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

All the Birds in the Sky

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

Published by: Tor on January 26, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead were close friends in childhood, but a series of incidents in high school led them to part ways. For Patricia, the development of magical powers was not expected, but it opened a whole new realm of possibilities. And Laurence’s tinkering led to a breakthrough–if you consider a time machine a breakthrough, and you probably should consider a time machine a breakthrough–that was similarly unanticipated. So when the two cross paths again years later, it should be no surprise that Patricia has graduated from a magical academy and is putting her powers to use to protect the world from catastrophe while Laurence is working with a group of genius engineers to develop similarly world-altering technology. Of course, it should also be no surprise that there are forces at play that neither of them expected that they will need to confront together if they are to avert the biggest catastrophe of them all…

I hesitate to praise this as “wildly original” (as I have seen elsewhere) because this is by far not the first time we have seen magical realism and it certainly not the last time we will ever see it. But there is something about the way the writer has developed the characters that certainly made me feel like I was being plunged into a world that is fresh and new. It’s an engaging and entertaining story, which I think many will find difficult to put down. There’s a hint of fantasy, a hint of science fiction, a dash of dystopia, and even a bit of real science all wrapped up here with a tattered bow.

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

Seasons of Glass and Iron

Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar

Published by: Saga Press on October 18, 2016
Rating: 3 stars (★★★☆☆)

This is the tale of two women who must bear their burdens for the betterment of those around them. Because men cannot help themselves around her beauty, Amira must imprison herself high on a glass hill to keep all of her potential suitors at bay. Tabitha must wear out seven pairs of iron shoes to break her husband’s curse. Neither questions their situation on their own, but when they cross paths and tell each other their stories, they learn not only about the value of perspective but also about assumptions and misconceptions as well as the power they both have to control their own destinies.

There is something about a well-written adaptation of a fairy tale that I always enjoy. Reimagining and reinventing a classic story invokes considerations of perspective and innovation, and it is not easy to retell an existing story in an original way. But here readers get the gift of not only one excellent retelling but two intertwined tales that gain additional layers of meaning through the juxtaposition of each woman’s story.