Tag Archives: anxiety

All That I Can Fix by Chrystal Chan

Squirrels falling from the sky, a ten year old stalker, problems with parents, and a friendship torn apart over a girl – these are some of the elements of the YA novel All That I Can Fix by Chrystal Chan. Yes, the Chrystal Chan who has adapted many old time favorites for the Manga Classics series.

Chan tackles numerous social issues such as drug addiction, mental illness, alcoholism, child abuse, runaways, suicide, racism, gun control, all wrapped up with the normal teen angst thrown into the mix. To push things up a notch, there is a group of dangerous wild animals on the loose (ones you normally only get to see in the zoo or on a safari) who are actually attacking and killing the local citizens.

This is Ronny’s story, told from his point of view and it’s full of anger. Furious at his dad who is suffering from chronic depression and anxiety, Ronny yearns for the days when he had a real father who actually participated in the family. Suffering the results of a gun shot wound from a suicide gone bad, Ronny watches his pop, the one person he used to admire, shuffle around in his bathrobe doing nothing except sleep and watch TV. With a mom who has to work long hours to pay the bills coming home spent and using medication to erase the reality which is now her life, Ronny has to pick up the mantle of adulthood and taken on the responsibility of the household. A fifteen year old still in high school, he does the home repairs which they can’t afford, watches out for his younger sister Mina, and, in his limited spare time, hangs out with George, the girl he worships from afar, and his best friend Jello, a photography buff. On occasion he even attends school. Oh, let’s throw into the mix the factor that Ronny is mixed race and has to deal with those who object to the shade of his skin. This is one bitter boy.

I can see this book as one of those after school specials for kids. There’s a lot going on and the melodrama would lend itself to a visualized format. From the reader’s perspective, it was difficult to empathize with such a rude, nasty teen who has a bone to pick with the world and doesn’t pull back the punches (at times quite literally). Yes, he has it rough, and yes, he does show some redeeming characteristics when dealing with the troubles of his sister’s friend Sam, but overall he’s a jerk (I had another word in mind but I’ll keep it PG). Since Ronnie is the person telling the story, his attitude tempers the entire piece, forcing the reader to experience his cruel attitude towards life, ultimately directed at his father. Not my cup of tea. As a minor annoyance, the “little” sister Mina, supposedly a genius, is actually ten, but treated more like a six or seven year old. I was actually glad when she ditched the orange ensemble and started dressing more appropriately.

This one showed potential, but it definitely needed some pruning of the subplots, an upgrade to the attitude of the protagonist, and additional depth added to the characterizations.

2 1/2 stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

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Herding Cats: A “Sarah’s Scribbles” Collection by Sarah Andersen

Herding cats is one of those impossible tasks which would be idiotic to even attempt, but as a metaphor for life, Sarah Andersen graphically encourages the reader to keep moving forward and “Go make stuff” through a series of comic strips.

Sarah loves both cats and dogs who are featured throughout the book:

Cat shapes: Round, Long, Curve, Loaf
Dog shapes: Dog

Starting the day is tough for Sarah, who is far from a morning person:

“I will set my alarm for 7:30 and I will WAKE UP at 7:30! No snooze!”
Last panel: The comforter proclaims “BED OF LIES”.

Sarah tries to get a handle on her life:

4 panels with a clean room reflecting “a life of simplicity and order”.
Panel 5 – Later that week – “CHAOS, I AM YOUR MISTRESS.”

Then there is always retail therapy:

Before: Sad
After: Sad, but in a fabulous outfit

Other issues explored include anxiety, being an introvert, and tackling work assignments. There’s a tad of political commentary mainly surrounding a same sex relationship with her significant other.

The last portion of the book is a written commentary about the current state of art and the influence of the Internet, entitled Making Stuff In the Modern Era. Andersen laments that in the beginning she found the Internet a nurturing, inviting environment, but now it’s a “fire pit”. Part One: A Guide for the Young Creative, Being an Artist and the Internet, describes the prevailing situation facing young artists while Part Two: Artist Survival, provides advice on how to deal with the conflicts mentioned under the following five headings:
1. Growing pains are common and okay
2. Understanding criticism and harassment
3. It’s okay to have feelings
4. Go outside; the option is there
5. Don’t give up

The author presents comic style representations of Sarah dealing with these concerns providing the reader with some insight into her motivations for the “Sarah’s Scribbles” series.

Despite the above serious narrative, Herding Cats creates amusing comedic moments which are easy for the reader to personalize, especially if they aren’t a morning person, have a tendency to procrastinate, and love Autumn (like me). The illustrations, while not quite scribbles, are definitely lacking details, yet Andersen is effectively able (most of the time) to visually get her point across, hitched along with a chuckle and sometimes an outright laugh. My favorite comic strip pictures the angst of college students preparing for finals vs the calm of Sarah – “Me: No longer in school”. Been there, done that, appreciate the reminder.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing this temporary ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is not your typical self help book. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert does discuss deep philosophical questions about life and the choices we make, but her main focus is herself. It’s HER spiritual quest and if the reader finds comfort or develops a similar reality base, well good for them, but that is not her purpose for this saga. Trying to deal with a difficult divorce and the end of a torrid relationship, Gilbert finds herself on a one year journey divided between Italy (where she eats her way through the country while learning the language), India (finding some answers while exploring her spirituality at her Guru’s Ashram) and Bali, Indonesia (where she splits her day visiting a medicine man, a healer, and her lover since, despite her vow of chastity, she is having an affair with an older man from Brazil).

Gilbert is a beautiful, intelligent, witty, well traveled woman with an eye-opening way of expressing herself. I listened to the audiotape read by the author which is well enunciated and extremely literate, perfectly capturing the essence of her words.

This is one of those books I’m ashamed to admit I hadn’t read when it was first published. To make matters worse, I didn’t see the movie either, although I hope to remedy that situation soon. However, the one advantage of coming late to the table with this one, is the irresistible tidbits of information which have recently been disclosed to the public.

Elizabeth Gilbert is a woman who has led a fascinating life and continues to astound us with her choices. She was a bartender during her youth at a bar in the East Village of NYC (revealed in an article entitled The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon, Gentleman Quarterly, 1997), and the movie Coyote Ugly (2000) is based on those experiences where she met her first husband. Divorced after almost nine years of marriage, Gilbert took a sabbatical from life to figure things out (on her publishers dime of $200,000) which resulted in Eat, Pray, Love (2006). She ended up marrying her fellow world traveler in 2007 (after he was detained and threatened with deportment), despite his multi-country connection – children in Australia, family in his native Brazil, a gem business in Bali, and then her, a wife in New Jersey, where they jointly owned an East Asian Decorative Import Store (Two Buttons) which was sold in 2015. In between Gilbert has written a best selling fiction book, The Signature of All Things (2013) which I have read (but not yet reviewed) plus in 2015 published another “self help” tome, Big Magic, whose audio was sent for me to review although it is still waiting unopened in its box. In addition, Gilbert wrote another memoir in 2010, Committed, which examines her life and marriage after Bali. A 2015 article for the New York Times, Confessions of a Seduction Addict, scrutinizes her obsession with flirtation and the results of the lustful urges which destroyed her marriage. However, the juiciest bit of gossip is the fact that she has recently divorced husband number two to be with the love of her life, her hairdresser and girl friend Rayya Elias, (remember Liz’s unmanageable mane) who was mentioned several times in Eat, Pray, Love. She has shared with the public that Rayya has terminal cancer and Gilbert wants to be there to provide love and support, which included a recent Ceremony of Love, although not a formal marriage.

Let’s just say that Elizabeth Gilbert has been living her life between the pages of her memoirs and needs some time to catch up with herself.

My immediate response to Elizabeth Gilbert after reading her memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, is for her to relax and use that innate sense of humor to lighten up. The search for truth and the meaning of life is overrated, so just sit back, enjoy, and stop fussing. With all the pray and meditation, one would think she’d have had her problems put back in their place, but no – her regrets constantly reared their ugly heads. Move on and don’t look back or at the very least, let it catch up with you instead of looking for trouble since no matter how hard you try to hide from it, it will always find you. As far as any guilt for not wanting children, I think Gilbert made the right decision. Some women aren’t meant to be mothers and her career path and egocentricity (and I mean that in a nice way) would interfere with a fulfilling family life. Better to focus on being the favorite aunt and spoil those nieces.

Elizabeth Gilbert has a delicious way of looking at life and is the master of a well turned phrase making anything she writes a pleasure to read (or listen to on tape). While some might think this book is boring since, plot wise, not much happens, her pilgrimage along with the fascinating people she meets along the way more than make up for the lack of action. I especially loved the irascible Texan Richard (real name) who is full of droll advice and nicknamed Liz “groceries” to boot. For those readers who consider Gilbert a narcissist, well, if I had two popular movies based on my life released before I was forty years old and got to travel the world hobnobbing with all sorts of intriguing individuals while also making a bundle of dollars, I’d also be a little full of myself. (It’s not as if anyone pays me for what I write here on my blog).

Four stars. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Love Blind by Christa Desir and Jolene Perry

Shit happens, but it’s how ones deal with it that matters. Take Kyle and Hailey. Kyle is excessively shy, literally unable to express himself aloud (although he’s great at putting his thoughts down in his journal). He’s also carrying around a shitload of guilt for situations which aren’t really his fault. Then there’s Hailey who has the eyes of a geriatric patient, one who is gradually becoming more and more blind. Hailey’s created a list of things she’s scared to do, a bucket list of sorts with actions to be completed while she can still somewhat see. Her one main joy is her acoustical guitar and the ability to make music. This is where the two teens lives collide in the book Love Blind by Christa Desir and Jolene Perry. Kyle works the soundboard at the school’s radio station and Hailey, with her two best friends/back up singers, shows up to strut her stuff and promote their band. Hailey is amused and intrigued by Kyle’s mumbles and one word responses and goads him into an awkward semi-friendship which grows into something more over time. Yet even though they like each other, Kyle feels unworthy and Hailey thinks she’s hurting more than helping, so a potential hook up between the two morphs into an “on again, off again” relationship even though everyone thinks they are a good influence on one another. The miscommunications dominate the scenario and this book becomes a story of “what ifs” and “should have beens”. Hailey is head strong and forges ahead, often making questionable choices, while Kyle’s in-decisions and lack of confidence holds him back from living up to his full potential. Yet over the three plus year period this story takes place, there is a continuing hope towards some sort of positive resolution.

A relatable topic dealing with the process of overcoming life’s obstacles which crop up from time to time – some self inflicted, others due to the callousness of others, and the rest just part of the tragedy of day to day living. The authors, Desir and Perry, take turns with alternate chapters, writing the story from the viewpoint of each of the two main characters. An easy read with a lot to say on current topics including high school angst, teen sexuality, lesbian relationships, bullying, and drug abuse. That the conclusion, although abrupt, doesn’t wrap everything up with a nice, neat bow is a big plus. Four stars.

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon Pulse for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey

An unusual coming of age story where eleven year old Lewis Dearborn is forced to develop an inner strength in order to deal with seven very lively and very dead ghostly pirates. These seven mates are the legacy from his great grandfather who grew too old to assist them with their mission of retaking the ship on display at the local maritime museum and sailing to Libertalia, a utopia for pirates. Once great grandpa dies, the family inherits the old ramshackle Shornoway, and Lewis takes over the tower room overlooking the sea which houses the seven trespassing ghosts. Now it’s up to Lewis to find a way to deal with this motley bunch. Yet Lewis has troubles of his own. His shyness makes him the target of the class bully. He is also embarrassed by his parents and scared to speak up in class. By remaining mute, he becomes a further magnet for ridicule by his classmates. When new girl, Anna, shows up in class, Lewis expects her to receive the same treatment, but surprisingly, she is accepted despite her odd behaviors. Unlike the others, Anna reaches out to Lewis who finally has someone with whom he can share his secrets, bizarre as they may be. With the help of the pirates as well as his new found friendship, Lewis discovers an inner courage and a sense of adventure hidden behind his fear of life.

Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey stretches the realms of reality, especially in the book’s conclusion, but since this is a ghost tale, all scientific principles are suspended. The reader roots for Lewis and laughs at the misadventures of his pirate friends. The old historic house from the mid 1800’s along the East Coast is a perfect setting for a “spirited” tale. Middle schoolers will love this adventure, perfect for those hard to please tween boys. 4 stars.

And a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.