Starfish Review

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Thank you to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for giving me the opportunity to review this book in exchange for an honest review.

Title: Starfish

Author: Akemi Dawn Bowman

Publication Date: September 26, 2017

Bio: Kiko Himura has always had a hard time saying exactly what she’s thinking. With a mother who makes her feel unremarkable and a half-Japanese heritage she doesn’t quite understand, Kiko prefers to keep her head down, certain that once she makes it into her dream art school, Prism, her real life will begin.

But then Kiko doesn’t get into Prism, at the same time her abusive uncle moves back in with her family. So when she receives an invitation from her childhood friend to leave her small town and tour art schools on the west coast, Kiko jumps at the opportunity in spite of the anxieties and fears that attempt to hold her back. And now that she is finally free to be her own person outside the constricting walls of her home life, Kiko learns life-changing truths about herself, her past, and how to be brave.

From debut author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes a luminous, heartbreaking story of identity, family, and the beauty that emerges when we embrace our true selves.

My Thoughts: If you were to ask me what piqued my interest about Starfish, my answer would be both the social anxiety representation and the Japanese representation. I have never read a book that had a Japanese character, so better late than never to get a jump start on this type of specific diverse read! If you know me well, you know I love reading books with a mental health theme, so it is no surprise that the social anxiety rep in this book caught my eye. Kudos to the author, Akemi Dawn Bowman, because she created and wrote both themes very well! (Well, the social anxiety at least- I can’t personally speak for the Japanese rep, but to the best of my knowledge she wrote it well.) It is always reassuring when you just know that the author has the understanding and knowledge of what she is writing about; it was evident throughout the book that the author knows first handedly or has done her research about what it is like to be biracial or suffer from social anxiety. Thank you, Akemi!
I felt a lot of STRONG emotions toward three of the main characters: Kiko, her mom, and Jamie.
Kiko’s mom… aka, the worst mom I have ever encountered in a YA book. There is not one single good quality about her: she is a narcissistic, narrow minded, and unfeeling character. Some of the things she did to Kiko and her brothers rose my blood pressure while getting my blood boiling. When you feel such strong emotions toward a character, you know the author is doing his/her job successfully. Few characters have angered me like she did, which I believe was the purpose of the character,
Kiko is just a beautiful little soul who I just wanna hug and reassure her how worthy and lovable she is. Her dedication towards her art left me inspired for the creative work I do (writing, blogging, drawing, etc.) Meaning, I wanna be as talented and cool as Kiko. I relate on a personal level to the social anxiety she experiences, so this left me feeling empathetic toward her struggles with her mental illness. The fact that she finds her happy ending in the epilogue of the book will leave me satisfied for the rest of my life… that may sound dramatic, but oh my god it is so true.
Jamie…oh, my heart. It has been a while since I had a book character crush, because lately the male characters in my book just have been annoying and incorrigible. However, if I had to pick a boy for my friend Kiko to love, it would be Jamie. He is gentle, dorky, goofy, handsome, and compassionate. He was always helpful and understanding of her anxiety. I appreciated how the author depicted Jamie as a perfect guy for Kiko to date, but gave Kiko the awareness that she can not solely rely on Jamie to make her happy.  I want a real-life Jamie, please.

The plot itself was fairly fast-paced and kept me eagerly flipping each page, which is not a commonality in my reading. I grew connected with the characters and storyline enough that I never wanted to put the book down. The author had several plot twists that kept me reading past my bedtime. (Again- not a commonality in my reading!) The last few chapters in the book left me on the edge of my seat because so much stuff happened!
This will be one of those books I will recommend to each and every reader out there, especially if they are interested in books centering around mental illness because this book depicts mental illness with a more positive outcome. Kiko works towards overcoming social anxiety and fully understands that the capability to “conquer” her fears is within herself. Even though Jamie is absolutely wonderful and helps Kiko, Kiko is aware that it is still within herself to successfully overcome the hurdles she faces. I personally believe this is something each and every person should understand.
The author does a beautiful job with the story telling and character building in this novel and I look forward to reading more of her work! If you are looking for a riveting, fast-paced, and diverse read, this is the book for you.

 

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Jessi’s Story

A Little Bit About Jessi:

Jessi Elliott is a newly graduated law clerk and debut author of both young adult and new adult romantic fiction. Her love of writing was born after many years of reading and reviewing books on her blog. She lives in Southwestern Ontario with her family and two adorable cats. When she’s not plotting her next writing project, she likes to spend her time hanging with friends and family, getting lost in a steamy romance novel, watching Friends, and drinking coffee. You can find Jessi at http://www.jessielliott.com, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay up to date on book news and upcoming releases.

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Jessi on writing and self-publishing:

I didn’t always know I wanted to be a writer. In fact, it wasn’t until about five years ago I decided that was what my dream career would be. For the longest time, I wanted to be an actress.

I’ve been writing for almost twice as long (almost ten years), but when I started out, being published wasn’t a thought I had. I wrote only for me. Hindsight, that’s probably a good thing, because the first story I wrote was essentially a really terrible The Vampire Diaries fan fiction. Do I still have it? Yes. Will it ever see the light of day? Hell to the no.

Flash back to the last couple of years of high school when you’re being prepped to pick a college or university. You’re basically asked what you want to do with the rest of your life and expected to make a post-secondary choice based on that. Of course, I initially wanted to major in creative writing. I have a supportive family, but that wasn’t something they were going to get behind. I had to take something that would ensure a stable future. That was fine. I ended up taking a two year Law Clerk college diploma and wrote on the side.

Fast forward two years to where I am now, recently graduated and releasing my first book in February 2018, I’m happy with my life so far. I decided in January 2017 that I was going to self-publish my debut novel Twisted Fate. I did this for many reasons, but the main one being I wanted control over EVERYTHING. That’s probably the biggest advantage of self-publishing. On the flip side, the biggest disadvantage would be that I won’t see my book in stores worldwide, I’ll have to depend on mostly online sales. That’s okay with me. I researched A LOT before I decided to go this route, and I’m happy with my choice.

I’m not ruling out traditional publishing in the future, but for my next few releases, I have a plan for them.

My love of writing definitely stemmed from my love of reading, which I used greatly as a coping method for anxiety. I’ve been living with and learning how to deal with anxiety for six years now, and the escape of a fictional world and relatable characters has done wonders. I know how bad my day is going, I can pick up a book and be transported to a different world for a while, and that’s pretty amazing.

I can’t wait to see where my creative brain takes me next, and until then, keep reading and writing the things that you love.


I decided to start a guest blog series in an effort to expose the diverse and beautiful people out there in the world. “Our Stories” is a guest blog series where I give writers a chance to share a unique story, experience, etc. that has made them into the person they are today. These unique stories can range from topics like sexuality or race to being a hospice nurse or growing up with a single mom- anything that has the power to shape a person’s life.

What experiences have you had that makes you who you are? If you are interested in participating in this guest blogger series, send me an email at brandibrendle@gmail.com so we can discuss. I am looking for multiple stories that  show how wonderfully contrast this world is. 

T-L’s Story

A little bit about T-L:

T-L Way is a poet, blogger, and occasional fiction writer from Buckinghamshire. Her topics of writing range from folklore and fairytales to sharks, conservation, politics, and space.

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Benefits, Council Houses, and Single Parents:

There is so much stigma in the UK around single parent households, people who live in council houses, and people on state benefits. I would hazard a guess that it’s no different in many other parts of the world. Perhaps people get angry because they have to work hard for a meagre life and don’t agree that others get subsidised housing or money from the government without working. People think a child cannot be brought up properly if it isn’t by a man AND a woman.

I have lived all three of these things. Now, as an adult, I am not on benefits, I do not live in a council house, and I have no children or partner. But I still remember the sequence of events that led to my mother, me,  and two of my younger sisters to fall into all three of those things. Perhaps that’s why I don’t immediately judge people in those circumstances. Perhaps if more people stopped to think about what happens BEFORE someone falls into one of them, why they are IN those circumstances, they would understand. And perhaps if they had lived those circumstances themselves, they would also be more sympathetic and less judgemental.
So here is my brief story of how we came to be brought up by a single mother, on benefits, in a council house:

My parents separated when I was six months old. My mother and I moved in with my grandparents and she continued to work, nursing.

A few years later, my mother, still a nurse, and I moved in with my mother’s new partner. A sister was born. Nothing changed. Another sister was born. My mum gave up working to look after her three children. Previously, the first sister and I had child minders for when both of them were working. That’s expensive enough for two children, let alone three.

With the newest baby only months old, the husband left, taking all financial support with him. My mother, having given up work, could no longer pay the mortgage, and he wasn’t contributing at all. The house was repossessed and we were, technically, homeless. A mother and three daughters, lost their home. We were placed into emergency accommodation which was a single room in a tower block. It was horrible, not altogether safe.

We were then housed in a council house on an estate. Even if she’d gone back to work at this point, my mother wouldn’t have been able to afford childcare for all of us, so we lived on benefits. Was it a nice way to live? Rarely having money for treats or new clothes or school trips? No. Not having enough money for packed lunches or birthday cards and presents for friends? No. Learning to eat everything on your plate because there really was nothing else? No. Personally I don’t understand the headlines about benefit frauds and people on benefits living lavish lifestyles; we were poor.  And being poor is hard.

When we were old enough to be at home by ourselves, my mother went back to work. Later she remarried and had two more children, who I hope will never have to experience what we did.

But you know what? Us older three all got good grades at school. We were extremely close, and happy for the most part. We have good manners. We’re kind. We’re not perfect, but there’s nothing wrong with the way we turned out. Except maybe I’m disinclined to be anything but single after what I’ve seen my mother go through, but that’s another thing entirely.

On the other hand, we’re now the kind of people that have to sit listening to rude and derogatory comments about poor people or people who lived in council houses, and then hear the whispers as someone is informed that that includes us. Then of course there’s the apologies and ‘but not you or your family of course!’. As if that makes it better.

I’m not asking for sympathy, any adversity I faced growing up has shaped me and made me more resilient to a lot of things. Looking back on our childhoods, my sisters and I can find many wonderful things to allow us to not dwell on the hardships.

What I do ask, is for people to think. This is just my story, how many millions, or billions of others are just like it and worse?


I decided to start a guest blog series in an effort to expose the diverse and beautiful people out there in the world. “Our Stories” is a guest blog series where I give writers a chance to share a unique story, experience, etc. that has made them into the person they are today. These unique stories can range from topics like sexuality or race to being a hospice nurse or growing up with a single mom- anything that has the power to shape a person’s life.

What experiences have you had that makes you who you are? If you are interested in participating in this guest blogger series, send me an email at brandibrendle@gmail.com so we can discuss. I am looking for multiple stories that  show how wonderfully contrast this world is. 

4 Bookish Facts About Me

What better way is there to get to know a book lover than having them share bookish facts about themselves?

1. My favorite genres are YA contemporary and fantasy

I have always preferred and adored young adult books, and it is rare that you can find me reading a new adult or adult book; something about young adult just excites me (maybe because I am a young adult!)

My two favorites genres of young adult are contemporary and fantasy. I love both tremendously, but typically I tend to be drawn more towards contemporary YA because I tend to prefer quick and easy reads, which is what I receive with contemporary books. I always SPEED through contemporary books!

I do love a good fantasy book, too-It just normally takes me a little longer to really be grabbed by a fantasy book as compared to a contemporary book.

And sometimes fantasy books intimidate me, (sorry not sorry.)

2. The book that really made me fall in love with reading

I mean, I have always really loved reading- but I permanently fell in love  with this hobby, lifestyle- whatever you wanna call it- my sophomore year of high school with Before I Fall.

Before this book, I had a little “break” from reading, and Before I Fall got me out of that dreadful break and reminded me how great reading truly is. I had a lot of issues with anxiety at that time in my life, (fun fact- I still struggle with the anxiety) but this was when I learned how helpful reading could be so helpful for me.

3. Favorite Book(s)

It is very difficult for me to pick *one* favorite book, but I have been able to narrow it down to two books.

Eleanor & Park: It was the first book I read by Rainbow Rowell, so I did not know what to expect but of course I fell in love with Rainbow Rowell’s writing and story-telling abilities. I loved the total 80’s vibe: reading comics on the bus and listening to a Walkman. It was total pop culture, which I am an absolute freak about.

For some reason, I am a sucker for stories about characters who do not have a favorable home life (probably because I love to torture myself with tears.) The whole book I was hooked on Eleanor and her story as well as what was going to become of her. (This book also somewhat gave me a Don’t You Dare Read This, Mrs, Dunphrey vibe– if you haven’t read, I totally recommend!)

Eleanor & Park’s relationship was sweet, romantic, and I love how they shared music and comics with each other– that alone reminds me of my own relationship.

Basically, the story itself, the writing and the characters were so beautiful it scotched it’s way up to my top two favorite books. (For now at least- ugh, so many great books out there.)

It’s Kind of a Funny Story: If you do not already know this about me, I suffer from anxiety and depression. This leads me to being very critical about myself- not just academic wise but with literally everything. In this novel, you see a lot of this in Craig who is putting a whole load of pressure on himself to do well– wait, not just “well”, EXCEEDINGLY well– in school. This gets the best of him and leads him to being in a mental hospital.

The story goes through with Craig being in the psychiatric hospital after calling 1-800-SUICIDE to report himself for suicidal ideation (which is so super admirable that it makes me love and appreciate Craig even more.) You meet the other characters who are also in the hospital; they make you laugh, they make you cry. You fall in love with them. You feel Craig’s emotions as he ventures through this difficult part of his life.

I loved Ned Vizzini’s writing; he told the story like he actually knew what Craig was going through. I did not realize it at the time I was reading the book, but later after finishing I learned that Ned committed suicide seven years after the publication of this book–I cried, it is absolutely heartbreaking, but it brings a new light to this book.

4. Favorite childhood books

Most of my favorite childhood books are ones that my parents would read to me when I was young:

1. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

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2. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch

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3. Wacky Wednesday by Dr Seuss (as Theo LeSieg)

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Doug’s Story

A little bit about Doug:

Douglas Geller is 24-years-old and works in public relations. He is a graduate of Ithaca College and currently resides in New York, New York. He published his book: The Dreamer in 2016 and it is currently available on Amazon.

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Accepting a no because it only takes one yes:

No is a powerful word: it breaks hearts, crushes dreams and makes people cry. Often people will miss out on opportunities just because of the possibility that they’ll hear that two-letter word. Not only is it a powerful word but it is used commonly as well. Most people are told no quite often, no you can’t leave early because it’s nice outside, I’m sorry but no Jodie Foster isn’t available to do an interview with you. Luckily, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been said no to, because it only takes one time of someone saying yes, to change your life.

Hi, I’d like to talk to…That was me the majority of my junior and senior years in high school. I was constantly calling people who had no idea who I was, nor should they have, I was only the first ever host of a high school tv program and I was calling people way above my pay grade. Richard Kornberg, the publicist for Rent, knew there was nothing he could do for me, despite calling many, many times and explaining that a word from Jonathan Larson’s family on his time at White Plains High School would be a great segment! There were many of these calls, many with the same result. It was discouraging –  I had many “brilliant” ideas, I thought everyone would say yes, that I could convince anyone and everyone to come on my show that my parents and a few other people watched on local cable or online.

I think we can all see where this is leading to: someone did say yes, actually a few did. My first episode I had a Super Bowl winner do an interview. My mom helped me skip a day of school so I could interview Grammy award winning artist Matisyahu. A state senator joined me to discuss the high school’s budget. Those were some of the bigger yes’s that I received but for every one yes there were at least ten no’s. What is important is that I learned that it’s ok to be said no to, because if you are persistent and work hard enough, someone will say yes.

Today at twenty-four years old, I remember the lesson I learned in high school: Searching for jobs and facing rejection wasn’t easy, but I ended up with the job I wanted. I dated many girls before I found the most amazing one who said yes to me (still can’t figure out why though!)

As I continue a passion of mine, which is publicizing my book, I know many people will say no to reading it, supporting me and no to being featured on my blog. However, it makes me that more appreciative of the yeses. It’s a reminder of how hard I need to work and things that are worthwhile aren’t easy.

At the karate school that I’ve trained at for the majority of my life there is a phrase that is hung on the wall: Nana korobi ya oki. It means if you fall down seven times get up eight, because that eighth time is when you’ll win.


I decided to start a guest blog series in an effort to expose the diverse and beautiful people out there in the world. “Our Stories” is a guest blog series where I give writers a chance to share a unique story, experience, etc. that has made them into the person they are today. These unique stories can range from topics like sexuality or race to being a hospice nurse or growing up with a single mom- anything that has the power to shape a person’s life.

What experiences have you had that makes you who you are? If you are interested in participating in this guest blogger series, send me an email at brandibrendle@gmail.com so we can discuss. I am looking for multiple stories that  show how wonderfully contrast this world is.