Thursday, March 22, 2018

In a Nutshell Reviews - The Grief Edition

In a Nutshell Reviews are my version of mini-reviews, because sometimes, you just want the highlights. It's a well known fact, that I have a special place in my heart for "grief" books, and as I was looking at these three books, I realized they were all stories dealing with grief and loss, and all very wonderful and hopeful as well.


Going Places
Kathryn Berla
Series: n/a
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Amberjack Publishing
Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads
Hudson Wheeler is a teen for whom everyone had high expectations, but since his father was killed when he was ten, he's felt unmotivated to pursue much other than his art. During his senior year, he decides to home school, thinking he will get to relax and focus on his two lazy businesses. But instead, he experiences love and rejection for the first time; meets an athletic girl who shows him by example what it means to be a man; and solves the painful mystery of the WWII vet whose poignant plight forces Hudson out of the comfort zone of boyhood.
This is my second Berla book, and I have to say, she knows how to write a book that tugs at my heartstrings. I really loved being able to accompany Hudson on his journey, as he took a crooked path in trying to find his way back from his grief and towards his future.
  • Pro: I instantly like Hudson. He had an interesting voice, and I was so happy to be with him on this crazy journey. 
  • Pro: There were a multitude of other characters to love as well. Fritzy and Mr. Pirkle were two stellar characters, who brought so much to this story. I must also share my love for Jennifer, the boy poodle, who they dyed pink. I smiled every time Jennifer was on page. 
  • Con: There were two romantic threads in this story. One thread was tied off, the other not so much. I sort of want to know what happened, because that was the ship I was rooting for.  
  • Pro: Yeah for older folks! This was the second book I read in two days, that showed some love for our seniors. I was so pleased with all the different ways Berla presented these characters, and think it's important to show seniors and teens interacting in positive ways. 
  • Pro: It was nice to see an "alternate path" presented in the story. Maybe traditional high school and college is not for everyone, and it's important to show that there are other avenues that can lead to success and happiness. 
  • Pro: Hudson's mom was sort of awesome. She didn't make these new life choices easy for Hudson, nor did she allow him to do it all on his terms. There was bargaining and compromise, and I loved the way she treated him as an adult. 
  • Pro: The main plot was one I love - a good coming of age, self-discovery type story, but there were a bunch of great sub-plots too, which were done in such a way, that I never felt overwhelmed by the amount of story I was getting. 
  • Pro: Connection is something I feel we don't have enough of these days, and part of what helped Hudson "find" himself, was connecting with others. In his effort to withdraw, he actually widened his social circle, and gained so many beautiful things by doing it. 
  • Pro: Hudson's struggle with trying to live up to other people's expectations and seeking validation gave me more to love. I think it's very human to need these these things, and I was really happy with the resolution Berla gave him concerning these needs. 
  • Pro: When Hudson finally opened up and shared some of himself, the concept for his graphic novel was born, and it brought tears to my eyes. 
Mr. Pirkle told me that the most difficult thing a man has to do in life is to open his heart to someone. In his mind, he had failed, but I knew different. I knew he had succeeded. And I knew that one day I would too. 
Overall: A beautiful story of love, loss, friendship, connection, and finding the places you will go.


The Astonishing Color of After
Emily X.R. Pan
Series: n/a
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Magical Realism
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Rating:  4 out of 5 stars
Goodreads
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.
The Astonishing Color of After was a beautiful and painful portrait of those left behind when a family member takes their own life. It explores the pain and the loss suffered by Leigh, but also the complicated relationships that exist in families and the need for forgiveness and healing.
  • Pro: First and foremost - this book was beautifully written. Pan's prose was vivid and gorgeous. She painted the characters' emotions with sweeping brushstrokes, and I was right there with them, fully immersed in their fear, joy, and pain. 
  • Pro: Magical realism is one of my favorite genres, and those magical elements were used so wonderfully in this story. The Smoke and Memories sequence was such a brilliant way to give the reader different points of view. 
  • Pro: Pan took us on an awesome trip to Taiwan. She showed us so many special sites, but my favorite thing was all the food. It was a virtual feast! 
  • Pro: I loved the way the story bounced back and forth from past to present, from happy to sad. It was interesting that Pan chose to explore Leigh's relationship with her best friend, Axel, in addition to those with her mother and father, but I think it was a good way to alleviate some of the sadness and inject some hope into this story. 
  • Pro: This was Leigh's healing journey, but it was also her journey of self discovery. She struggled with her ethnic identity, her belief in herself as an artist, her place in Axel's life, her inability to get all the answers, and her guilt over not being there for her mother. Pan did such an amazing job getting us inside Leigh's head and taking us along with her on this path to self discovery. 
  • Con: I think the book was a tad too long. It could have been edited down a little.  
  • Pro: Leigh learns a lot about her mother and all the family secrets. This insight opens her eyes and has her re-examining things with a  new perspective. I really appreciated this growth, and also the awesome twist Pan threw in there. 
  • Pro: I thought the mental health part of the story was handled in a respectful and sensitive way. Pan addressed how everyone was affected by Leigh's mother's mental illness and her suicide, and it is important that it was approached in this stigma-free way. 
Believing is a type of magic. It can make something true. 
Overall: A gorgeously written tale, which took me on a magical journey from the throes of grief to a place of healing, understanding, self discovery, and finding beauty in the pain.


The Secrets We Bury
Stacie Ramey
Series: n/a
Age/Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars
Goodreads
In an effort to escape his family, Dylan decides to hike the Appalachian trail—but he never expected to run into love.

Dylan Taggart is on the run. His family is trying to put him in a school for psychologically challenged students, and he gets it—he has anger issues. But Believers Charter School is a complete overreaction. So he decides a six-month hike on the Appalachian Trail is the perfect place to hide out until he can legally drop out of school.

Dylan wanted independence, but being alone on the trail is more than he bargained for. Then he meets a mysterious hiker named Sophie, and the two begin to develop a bond he never expected. But will love be enough to escape what they're both running from?
If I had know there were so many characters in this book dealing with grief and loss, I would have read it so much sooner. There was so much grief and loss, but also a ton of love, growth, understanding, and most importantly, healing.
  • Pro: I loved being in Dylan's head. His character had this voice, that I could not get enough of. I found him so real and interesting. 
  • Pro: Let's face it. This was the closest I will get to hiking the Appalachian Trail, and I must say, what a wonderful trip Ramey took us on. She did such a good job conveying the difficulty and the wonder of trail life, as well as educating us on the ins and outs of hiking the trail. 
  • Pro: Ghost and Rain Man were such fantastic characters. I loved getting to know them, and was so invested in them early on. 
  • Pro: Grief, grief, everywhere! So many characters carried heavy hearts, and they needed each other and their time on the trail to provide some relief from the pain of their losses. 
  • Pro: When Dylan talked about his dad, I couldn't help but smile. Their relationship was so special, and I loved that Dylan felt he had someone on his side, when his dad was there. 
  • Pro: I learned so much about Processing Sensory Disorder from Dylan, and really liked the way he shared the things he did to alleviate his discomfort as well as the ways it affected him and those who were part of his life. It was awesome to see him pushing through some of his difficulties, when he was on the trail. He acknowledged it was hard, but he did it and hopped some major hurtles while he was hiking. 
  • Pro: This hike was transformative for Dylan. He made a lot of mistakes and angered a lot of people, who were important to him, but he also learned how to see things in a different way, and how to be a better friend, cousin, and son. 
  • Pro: Yep, there was a little romance, and you know I adored it. So sweet and awkward, but so genuine. 
  • Pro: I shed some tears, both happy and sad, but was most overjoyed with the forgiveness that multiple characters needed and received. 
There are moments in life that are as perfect as the first line in a good book. Or the last line. They're waiting for you to notice them. This is one of those moments. 
Overall:  A breathtaking journey along the Appalachian Trail, which showed how "trail magic" can help bring one peace, clarity, understanding, and restoration. 



** ARCs received in exchange for honest reviews.









Have you read any of these books?
Let us know in the comments!

34 comments:

  1. I've been excited to read The Astonishing Color of After, so I'm happy to see you enjoyed it! The only con was the length? I get a little frustrated when I feel like parts of a book could have been said with fewer pages. It can make a story drag, which is no fun. Beautifully written, ftw!

    Do You Dog-ear?

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    1. I think that's what it is. Some things could have been condensed or skipped, but this book was still excellent, and I throughly enjoyed it.

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  2. The Secrets We Bury sounds really good. I like hiking, but will probably never do something like the Appalachian Trail. I like that the author included a lot of information about the trail and hiking, and that the outdoors helped Dylan through his grief.

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    1. I did not expect to love that book, so it was just made my experience that much better. I really learned a lot about hiking, because I felt super knowledgable when I was reading Starry Eyes.

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  3. I’m interested in The Astonishing Color of After. I think it was a Book of the Month book, so I’ve seen it everywhere recently. Magical realism always gets my attention. Great reviews!

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    1. I thought the magical realism was used quite well. Most of the story is told from Leigh's POV, but when the smoke was invoked, we got to see things through other characters' eyes. I thought it was a pretty genius way to accomplish that.

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  4. I find grief books interesting to read. I want the topic to be dealt with well and also see the character grow a little bit. The Secrets We Bury looks interesting. I love the idea of a hike thrown in. Great reviews!

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    1. I am pretty well known for my love of grief books. I think it's more about seeing all the different ways people cope and also, seeing that they make it through. It's that hope I love the most.

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  5. I really enjoyed Going Places. I was pleased to read about dealing with the grief of losing someone in the war. I feel like that is a story that doesn't get told very often, but is very relevant to many families today.

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    1. I am over the moon that we both reviewed this book. Berla is 2 for 2 for me, and I agree, it is great to see some attention given to how families are impacted by war, because sadly, there are a lot of families out there, just like Hudson's, who are dealing with similar losses.

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  6. I'm a little weary about The Astonishing Color of After because I haven't really fully healed of my mom passing :(

    The Secrets We Bury sounds fascinating because.. starting a charter school! Charter schools have a special place in my heart!

    Going Places: Wow there is so much to love here! Love for seniors and "alternate path"s! Yay! I instantly love stories that involve WWII too!
    Glad to hear you loved it and were able to connect with Hudson his mom and the other characters

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    1. Sorry about your mom. I can understand how a book like Astonishing Color could be tough. I don't know if you would be excited about the way Dylan reacts to the charter school in The Secrets We Bury. He is actually running away to avoid going to the school.

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  7. The Secrets We Bury was one I was eying but wanted to see some reviews. Glad to see you liked it. Happy and sad tears are what I love in a book!

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    1. The Secrets We Bury surpassed any expectations I had for it. It was wonderful!

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  8. I really can't wait to start reading The Astonishing Color of After, it sounds absolutely amazing! Loved this post 😊

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    1. I liked it a lot. It's quite painful, but there is also a lot of healing too, and also I loved that Leigh was trying to find her identity. There are a lot of things to love in this story.

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  9. It sounds like all three handle grief beautifully. I wish these had been out after I lost my mom in 2016.

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    1. The thing I love about these books is that they reinforce that grief is not a one-size-fits all thing. We all grieve differently and we all heal differently and that's ok. Sorry about your mom. ((HUGS))

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  10. I do like grief books but I have to space them out a bit. The Secrets We Bury and Going Places are both books that I had my eye on. I haven't been too sure about The Astonishing Color of After and am still kind of on the fence. I do love magical realism though.

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    1. All were quite beautiful in their own ways. The saddest one was probably The Astonishing Color of After, just because of the the way Leigh's mother died. I think it's touch to come to terms with someone taking their own life, and that struggle and pain is very present in the story.

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  11. I have Going Places, but I haven't read it yet...

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    1. I hope you read it. It was delightful!

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  12. All three of these sound like beautiful reads. I think I'll be keeping the tissues handy though because they sound like they're all probably going to make me cry. Great reviews!

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    1. Going Places is the lightest of the three, because though these is residual grief, its focus is more on the coming of age, in my opinion. I really enjoyed all three, though.

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  13. Sometimes I can really go for a good crying book filled heartbreak and grief. I'm particularly interested in The Secrets We Bury from above. The hiking, the characters, and the touch of romance sound like exactly what I'd like to read.

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    1. The beauty of these books is that I wasn't always crying. I got a little misty, but they were very hopeful. Seriously, The Secrets We Bury was sooooo good.

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  14. I haven't read any of these yet, but I do need to be in the right frame of mind before tackling these hard-hitting books. All of them sound amazing and I am so happy that you found them enjoyable. I am most intrigued by The Astonishing Color of After and I hope to read that one sometime soon. Lovely post, Sam! :)

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    1. The heaviest book was The Astonishing Color of After. It deals with suicide, so I knew it was going to be very heavy. The other two were lighter. They had moments that were really deep, but they were definitely on the lighter side.

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  15. Thanks so much for sharing all of these. I hadn't heard of that last one, I don't believe. I do really love books that focus on grief - it just pulls on my emotions and I love that.

    -Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. That last book was requested solely because the cover read romance to me. I got so much more than what I thought I would reading that book. I really loved it.

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  16. Interesting to see these all grouped under grief! I would also recommend Sunflowers in February to you if you are appreciating grief-based YA contemporary reads! Great mini review.

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    1. I just gravitate towards this kind of book, and had read them all in a row, so why not! I have to check out Sunflowers. Well, that does sound good to me.

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  17. Great reviews. You're the second person I've seen reviewing The Astonishing Color of After and I can't believe I haven't heard more about it because it's sounds like it's beautifully written so I'll have to check that out. honestly, all of these books sound like they are good books and I can't believe I've not heard a word about any of them. Guess my TBR will be getting that bit bigger.

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    1. The good news is, lots of people bought the book, because it hit the NYT list at number 10, I think. When you read the author's afterword, she shares how the story changed after a family member committed suicide. So, it's a very personal story, and you can tell.

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