ARC Review of I Declare War by Levi Lusko

I received an advanced copy of  I Declare War by Levi Lusko from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I had previously read Levi Lusko’s book Through the Eyes of a Lion and had loved it so when I saw that this was available to read early, I jumped on it.

I Declare War has a subtitle: “4 keys to winning the battle with yourself”; however, the subtitle does not fail to mention that it’s also about winning the battle against Satan and his demons with God’s help. (This is not a fault because how long would that subtitle be.) Despite that, the whole book is exactly about that.

The book goes through 4 cards, a la the card game “War”. The first card that Lusko discusses is “Declare War on What You Think.” Throughout this section, Lusko combines personal experiences, scripture references, and secular research to discuss how to actually take thoughts captive.

The next card Lusko goes through is “Declare War on What You Say.” He discusses the power of words in a very similar fashion to how he discussed declaring war on what you think. After all, thoughts and words are very much the same at times. However, he discusses the emotional impact that our words have on other people and helps to put more into light the psychological reasons why we want to respond the way that we do rather than seek to understand what the other person actually meant.

He then discusses the card “Declare War on What You Do.” This section discusses how so much of what we do is routine stuff that we ultimately live on autopilot about 55% of the time. With this section, he discusses taking back the control and rerouting bad habits into good ones.

The very final section is the one that is the most scripture heavy as it is about “phantom power,” the acknowledgement that we as humans will always be imperfect and that ultimately we need to be in tune with God for any of this to actually truly work.

While I did like this book, I felt that there was a certain nuance that was absent in discussion of mental illness. While the description of this book mentions specifically that this book is for those that struggle with depression, anxiety, suicide, eating disorders, and addiction (all mental illnesses), the book tends to want to put the blame solely on the person suffering from these or else blame just the spiritual side of things. While this is never outright said, it definitely is implied. This is not helpful to those that suffer with those. A lot of what is told in this book is stuff that many who have a mental illness and believe in God have been told many times before to do to change to become healed. Additionally, as such, it’s a lot of the things that have been used as hurtful words towards the misunderstanding of mental illness especially in the Christian church.

However, if you don’t read this book with those things in mind, this book is fine as is and will challenge you to think about your thoughts and your actions. I just however wouldn’t recommend that anyone with a mental illness go into this book expecting more than what they’ve already been told by many people of Christian faith.

Final rating: 3.5/5, rounded up on Goodreads.

ARC Review of Hearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith

I received an advanced copy from through the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Hearts Unbroken tells the story of Lou Wolfe who is a citizen of the Muscogee Nation (an indigenous person). The Wolfe family has recently moved to East Hannesburg, Kansas from Texas during the middle of her junior year. After her athletic boyfriend Cam criticizes his brother’s Native fiance based on racist stereotypes, Lou dumps him via email and decides to make senior year a fresh start, including who she hangs out with.

Lou joins the journalism class at school, and on the first day, she meets Joey, a new student, who instantly catches her eye.

Simultaneously, the new theater director announces a color-conscious casting approach to the school’s fall musical and instantly stirs up controversy from a a group of parents who call themselves “Parents Against Revisionist Theater” and are hellbent against this decision. This same group of parents also fought against book selection in the library and stirred up trouble in the journalism class last year as well.

This book was absolutely terrific. First, it’s important to note that this is an own-voices novel but don’t walk into this book expecting the author to do all the educating for you. If you are unaware of Native history in the U.S., the author does mention several resources at the end of the book to help guide your research. Furthermore, the author also uses Mvskoke language sprinkled throughout. Rather than the typical editorial choice to italicize words in another language, this uses the standard text format which is a refreshing change to see. (I will say that if you’re not used to non-English words not being italicized, it’ll take some time to become used to it, but I think it’s a positive change.)

The author also includes a character who is Lebanese-American (Joey) and characters that fall into the LGBT+ community. Additionally, faith is actually a part of the characters’ lives which is seldom seen in YA but a nice change. Religion is presented in both a positive and a negative light which is also refreshing to see (as most YA books tend to only present it in a negative light). Socioeconomic status is all brought into light as well as the main character’s best friend has to constantly work to try to help make ends meet for her family.

While some people may criticize and say that it’s all too much, I found the diversity within the story to be extremely true to life and felt extremely natural within the story.

This is a book that will cause you to question your own judgments and own actions or lack thereof. It will infuriate you at times (and yes, Lou will infuriate you at times too because she is a flawed person…but we all are), but it will also cause you to cheer for Lou as well as the rest of the journalism class.

When this comes out, you will definitely want to read it.

Final rating: 5/5. 

Releases October 9: Links to Pre-Order: 

Indie Bound

Barnes & Noble

Amazon

BookPeople

ARC Review of He’s Making Diamonds by S.G. Willoughby

I received an ARC of He’s Making Diamonds: A Teen’s Thoughts on Faith Through Chronic Illness from the author in exchange for an honest review. (Disclaimer: I do not personally know the author so this is an unbiased review as well.)

As the full title suggests, this is a Christian nonfiction book about what the author has learned so far in her battle with chronic illness. The book goes through several sections of topics that should strongly resonate with those living with a chronic illness of any age while specializing towards those thoughts from those who are teenagers facing chronic illness.

I do not have a chronic physical illness myself; I have chronic mental illnesses which while can present comorbid with chronic physical illness, it isn’t the same. The author does touch upon, however, the mental struggles that can come with chronic physical illness including anxiety and depression. For someone who has wrestled with (and in all likelihood will continue to wrestle with) mental illnesses for the last 9 years, I am always nervous when I read other’s writings about it from a faith perspective because there are still a lot of people in the Christian faith that don’t believe mental illness is a real thing. Thankfully, the author navigated this section very carefully and with discernment, giving no answers and making no accusations.

While this book is intended for those with chronic physical illness, those that have a loved one with chronic physical illness will also benefit from this read to see what it’s like for one person to navigate faith through it while also being reminded that this is just one person’s walk.

I wish we had been given more background information into the author’s own story with chronic illness. While there was a little bit of information given, I walked away from this book still unclear of the depths of the author’s own struggle. While I realize that that no one is owed anything beyond that which an author is willing to put out there, it would have helped to give a bit more perspective for those that are reading this from an outsider to chronic physical illness perspective.

That being said, I still recommend this for anyone that struggles with a chronic physical illness or for anyone that has a loved one that struggles with a chronic physical illness. I do specify “physical” because those with mental illnesses may not be able to fully resonate with what’s being talked about in here (coming from someone with chronic mental illnesses).

 

Link to purchase: He’s Making Diamonds

ARC Review of Ghost Boy by Stafford Betty

I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ben sees ghosts. He is able to communicate with them, but they don’t visit him very often. When he admits that he sees them to his parents and his friends, he receives a lot of pushback from his friends who make fun of him and his dad who sends him to a psychologist who tells Ben he’s not crazy but starts him on medication anyway.

This book reads like it was the author’s first draft. There are some good ideas here with the plot, but the plot isn’t ultimately fully developed.

The character is 12 for most of the book and going to be beginning junior high (7th) grade which would put this book most appropriate for a middle grade audience. However, this book is very difficult to follow at times, and while it’s clear throughout that it’s supposed to be a contemporary novel, there’s not enough of Ben’s world established to truly create that.

There’s also a whole lot of characters. Ben’s parents are referred to by their first names, and Ben also has an older sister who is only mentioned a few times despite the fact that she is 4 years older than Ben and lives with him. There are other characters that are brought up in one chapter, never to be seen again.

I had been really interested by the description of the novel, but ultimately, this reads too much like an unpolished first draft to be a good read.

 

Final Rating: 2/5 stars

ARC Review of Behind These Hands by Linda Vigen Phillips

I received an advanced copy of this book through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Claire is a 14 year old high school freshmen who loves creating music very deeply. She enters a prestigious competition for an original composition and is competing against her best friend Juan that she may like as more than just a friend.

Claire’s world, however, comes to a halt when her younger brother is diagnosed with a genetic disease known as Batten’s Disease which prompts the rest of the family to get tested as well, only to discover that Claire’s other younger brother has the disease as well and Claire is only a carrier.

The book, told in verse, speaks into the emotions of the situations where Claire knows that she will be the one left behind and the emotions that go along with that.

While the story itself is a beautiful one, there are times where the verse falls a bit short and reads more like dialogue put into verse form. Additionally, some of the text speak that is used in this book is so obscure that the intended audience won’t even know what the characters are trying to say.

However, this is a good read.

Overall rating: 3.5/5

Review of Wild Blue Wonder by Carlie Sorosiak

Wild Blue Wonder takes place in Maine in a small town that thrives upon summer tourism. Quinn Sawyer and her family live on the grounds of a summer camp, and every summer for 8 weeks, they conduct summer camps. Perhaps because of this and the small town, it provides the opportunity for Quinn, her siblings (all close in age), and friends Dylan and Hana to become very close.

But what happens to a family and to friendship when a tragedy strikes a small town?

Told over the course of June and July in retrospective chapters and October-December in present day chapters, Sorosiak crafts a beautiful tale of a strong family dynamic and what can happen to it when challenged by grief.

While the story has the current of grief running through everything, the story itself is not sad. It is hopeful, showing that while grief can destroy, finding a way to live with the grief can lead to a certain type of healing where grief isn’t always so palpable even if it is always there.

Sorosiak also is able to craft a lyrical world where the possibility of magic monsters exist and questions exist about what really makes something a monster. While this book has speculative elements, it definitely falls on the very heavy contemporary side of speculative fiction.

I loved that Sorosiak wrote a family with strong parents (and a strong grandmother) as well as showing the other side of the spectrum with the character of Alexander. It provided for a nice balance.

Additionally, I loved the friendship aspect as well. While the friendships sometimes intermixed with romance, friendship was truly at the heart of the story.

This is a book that I didn’t want to end.

Highly recommend this.

Final Rating: 5/5.

Review of The Strange Fascinations of Noah Hypnotik

Noah Oakman is a 16 year old living in Iverton, Illinois, a fictional suburb of Chicago. He had been a competitive swimmer until he faked a back injury to stop swimming instead of revealing to anyone his true reasons for wanting to stop.

Convinced by his best friends Alan and Val to go to an end of summer party, Noah goes, gets rather drunk, waits in the library inside of the house, and runs across Circuit, an odd boy Noah’s age, who convinces Noah to follow him home. Once there, Circuit attempts to hypnotize Noah, but before Circuit can complete the hypnosis, Noah runs out of the house.

As he leaves, he notices something strange. The dog that had been on the porch had been a border collie…but now it’s a golden retriever.

Over the next several days, Noah begins to realize that several things that he had always known to be true had suddenly changed. Alan’s extensive DC collection has been all replaced by Marvel. Instead of his parents always watching the show Friends, they are watching the show Seinfeld.

The only things that have seemingly not changed are Noah himself and what he calls his strange fascinations. Noah embarks on a journey to figure out the mysteries behind his strange fascinations, figuring that if he can solve those, he can figure out why they stayed the same.

This book is brilliant. This is the first time that David Arnold has taken a contemporary and put a speculative twist into it, and Arnold does masterfully. The emotions that he is able to convey through his writing put you right into the confusion of Noah and how nothing seems to make sense anymore, where your history is suddenly rewritten.

This is one that I didn’t want to end.

Final Rating: 5/5 stars.