“Are You Happy? A Guidebook to Earning Happiness” by Lea Colleens

AreYouHappyARE YOU HAPPY?

Lea Colleens
Harlen Books Pty Ltd. (2018)
ISBN 9780648229513
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (7/18)

In “Are You Happy? A Guidebook to Earning Happiness,” author Lea Colleens takes the reader on a journey of discovery in a quick and easy to read self-help manual that will open the eyes to a unique concept on how to find happiness – by earning it.  The book is divided into three sections: Happiness ExplainedInstruction Guide and The End Result, each section providing clear and easy to understand ideas, explanations and suggestions along the way.

The journey begins with a simple question – Are you happy?  Seems an easy enough question, right? But it leads to several other questions.  How do you know if you are really happy?  How can you be sure? How does anyone know what will make them happy?  How can anyone know? To help answer these questions, Colleens begins by explaining what happiness is and what it is not.  She states that contrary to the popular beliefs that have been spoon fed to us over the years, it is not contentment, the absence of ego, pleasure, self-esteem, positive, thinking, etc.  Nor will nice things make one happy. Rather it is cited that happiness is certainty of future pleasures (that nice things often bring), but that the nice things of themselves, don’t, and won’t make you happy. The basic formula for happiness as defined by the author is Happiness = Affection + Excitement.

Colleens goes on to explain the functions of the three brains in your head vying for control:  The Master Brain, The Dog Brain and The Reptile Brain, and explains how each brain makes us act the way we do.  According to Colleens, if we can learn to let our Master Brains run the show, we will be happy, because our Master Brains want us to be happy.

Colleens has a distinctive, clear voice that is crisp and to the point. One can almost feel her energy emanating from the pages. Though while the pages are full of zest and enthusiasm, some of the language used in the delivery is distracting from the message.  The profanity will be off-putting to those with an aversion to that sort of thing, as will the sarcasm. Granted, there are times when such a tone is effective and beneficial, but in a self-help book on happiness?  I leave that up to the individual reader.

That being said, there were many things in “Are You Happy? A Guidebook to Earning Happiness,” by Lea Colleens that I thoroughly enjoyed.  The illustrations are excellent and clearly add definition and an extra layer of understanding to the text. I also found the charts on Seeking Excitement: Do’s and Don’ts and Seeking Affection: Do’s and Don’ts to contain valuable advice.  In the end, I fully agree with the author when she says, “There are no shortcuts…to help you earn happiness” (59). It takes consistent hard work and dedication to the cause, but in the end, happiness is totally worth it!

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“Her Viking Heart” by Heidi Herman

HerVikingHeartHER VIKING HEART

Heidi Herman
Hekla Publishing LLC (2018)
ISBN 9781947233928
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (7/18)

“Her Viking Heart” by Heidi Herman is a compelling story about love, loss, betrayal and redemption, as one woman discovers a family secret that changes everything she’s ever known.

When Anna Miller’s father is killed less than two years after the death of her mother, Anna finds herself alone in the world.  Moving back into her family home, Anna has the arduous task of sorting through and packing up her parents’ belongings.  When she comes across some mysterious documents in her father’s study she is confused but intrigued. Determined to complete the research her father began, Anna embarks on a journey that will take her back several generations in history to WWII.  As she begins to unveil the mystery surrounding her family, her research takes her to a small town in Wyoming.  It is in this town she meets a handsome rancher named Logan Harris, awakening feelings that haven’t stirred inside her in a long time.  As Anna gets closer to discovering the truth about her family secrets, she realizes it may be at the cost of her personal happiness.

It’s been some time since I’ve read such an enchanting story.  The plotline, the settings, the characters – I found all the elements to be equally satisfying.  It is a well-balanced narrative with plenty of developments that move the story continually forward, with enough surprise turns building anticipation and just the right amount of drama, romance, and intrigue to keep readers engaged.

The characters are easy to relate to and feel genuine in their roles and situations.  I experienced an immediate pull towards Anna – her emotions jumping off the pages as she is forced to deal with issues one cannot even imagine unless they’ve been in those shoes.  Her personality brought out the mama bear instinct in me as I vacillated between wanting to give her that kind of hug only a mother can give and wanting to take over and fix things for her! Not that she needed anyone to fix anything for her.  Capable, resilient and strong, I thoroughly enjoyed investing in Anna, standing in her corner and rooting her on as she unraveled the mystery. I especially delighted in watching her evolve throughout the story, as she reevaluated the things that were important in her life.

“Her Viking Heart” is the first story I’ve read by Heidi Herman, but it won’t be the last. She is a natural storyteller easily transporting the reader to another time and place. This was such a fun read, and I highly recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction with elements of subtle romance, a good mystery to solve and enough twists and turns to keep readers on their toes.

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“War World” by Rod C. Spence

WarWorldWAR WORLD

Rod C. Spence
Gallant Press (2017)
ISBN 9780999087916
Reviewed by Mason (age 15) for Reader Views Kids (7/18)

Six teenagers sent 2.4 million light years from earth. An expedition of the world’s brightest biotech scientists missing on another planet. An alien army controlled by a powerful wizard called The Shadow Lord. Prehistoric creatures sent on assassin missions. “War World,” by Rod Spence is a fast-paced action thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Jeremy, Patrick, Alex, Marrisa, Selene and Leo’s parents all work for a company called TerraGen Universal, the world’s leading Biotech company, sought after by mafia companies for their technology. The teenagers learn that something went terribly wrong with their parent’s expedition.

After receiving a secret message from his brother, Jeremy and his classmates embark on a mission to save their parents and possibly the world. The team consisting of the CIA, scientists, mercenaries and 6 teenagers travel across the galaxy through a wormhole that was created by TerraGen’s quantum computers. When the team gets to the other side of the wormhole they arrive on planet Genesis, a planet light years away from earth and home to blood thirsty Gnomes, prehistoric creatures, and wizards both good and bad. When the teenagers get split up during an attack, they must find their way out of the city to stay alive. The kids must make it through hidden passageways and secret entrances to escape the Gnomes who are hunting them. Once free of the city both groups encounter enormous creatures, wizards and deadly terrain. They begin to doubt they will ever find their parents and their other classmates, let alone survive this hostile planet and get home in 30 days before the return portal closes.

I thought “War World” by Rod Spence was an action-packed adventure with twists and turns of unexpected horror. While some parts were on the gruesome side, the story line was intense. I enjoyed the thrill of the chase as the groups narrowly escaped the Gnomes who wanted nothing more than to eat them. I think my favorite character would have to be Patrick, he is extremely smart and has an attitude and doesn’t let people like Alex push him around. The creatures were realistic and terrifying as they hunted the groups through inner city passages and a forest consisting of deadly terrain. Once I started reading, I could not put this book down, and finished it in two days! I look forward to reading the next book in the series, “War World, Paladin”.

I would recommend “War World” by Rod Spence to 9th graders and older who enjoy an action packed, space travel thriller.

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“Death, Unchartered” by Dorothy Van Soest

DeathUncharteredDEATH, UNCHARTERED

Dorothy Van Soest
Apprentice House Press (2018)
ISBN 9781627201971
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (07/18)

“Death, Unchartered” by Dorothy Van Soest is a haunting read that will cause readers to sit up and take notice.  It is a powerful journey wrapped up in an intense mystery/thriller one won’t soon forget.

When former school teacher Sylvia Jensen learns that the skeleton of a young boy has been discovered hidden at a school in the Bronx, she is distraught. Not only is she sure she knows who the boy is, but she is also convinced she knows who murdered him. The only way to know for sure is for her to team up with her friend JB Harrell, who is an investigative reporter. Because there was a lot going on at the time that Sylvia was involved with this school, many painful memories come to the surface. She was a young, married teacher who tried to fight a system that allowed another teacher to physically abuse students. Her passion for teaching also caused her to decide to keep teaching during a strike. Not only did this cause her to lose friends but it also endangered herself and people close to her. The events that took place during the late 60s caused Sylvia to end up in a dark place that took her a long time to escape. Now she must go back and confront those painful memories.

“Death, Unchartered,” covers a lot of hot topics from both the past and the present. Racial inequalities, poverty, political corruption, greed, and gang violence were particularly of concern to the protagonist in the past and much of it carried over to the present. The protagonist and several other related characters must step back into painful times in order to find answers. In doing so, they put their lives at risk. Confronting the painful memories and misconceptions also provides a change for healing and redemption.

I found “Death, Unchartered” to be riveting. The drama also took me back to my early years when I was doing graduate work as a counselor in education. One of my practicums was at an elementary school in a rough area. I will never forget being in the same room with a bunch of fifth graders when their teacher kicked over a desk. Fear of what might happen, when adults weren’t present, made me speak up. His behavior was immediately dismissed as being a result of him being a former cop. Nothing was done. There were other instances like this that came to mind as I read this story. I suspect that there are many others in education with similar stories.

While I think this book is a great choice for readers who enjoy a good murder mystery, I especially recommend “Death, Unchartered” by Dorothy Van Soest to social workers and educators. It will leave an impact.

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“3 Women 4 Towns 5 Bodies” by Townsend Walker

3Women4Towns5Bodies3 WOMEN 4 TOWNS 5 BODIES

Townsend Walker
Deeds Publishing (2018)
ISBN 9781947309210
Reviewed by Sheri Hoyte for Reader Views (6/18)

“3 Women 4 Towns 5 Bodies” by Townsend Walker is an intriguing collection of twelve short stories that take place in vastly different worlds spanning the course of several centuries.  Walker’s writing is seductive and compelling, and his imagination knows no boundaries. His stories range from scandalous to bittersweet and captivate the audience from the very first page.

The stories feature strong, wily females, and the self-titled novella sets the pace for this riveting collection. Readers follow Francesca and Lucia as they use their wits and God-given assets to improve their lot in life.  Always one step ahead, navigating delicate boundaries and questionable intent, these ladies give any man a run for the money. When Lucia meets up with Mia later in the story, the result is cunning, unpredictable and oddly, inspiring. Walker drives his characters through narrow slips of fate with sharp, witty dialogue, suspense and drama.

One of my favorite stories in the collection is ‘The Second Coming.’  Set primarily in Texas, the story begins in 1928 with a revival preacher and a farmer’s daughter, aptly named Charity. When the reverend’s foretelling of the second coming of Jesus fails to materialize as planned, Charity takes control of the venture, her astute senses and guile yielding healthy profits for the duo.  The good reverend could certainly learn a thing or two from Charity but, alas, is guided by the worldly pleasures of the flesh.  As a native Austinite, I loved the references to the Driskill Hotel and other local treasures, as well as the way the author captured the vibrancy of the city in another era.

‘A Little Love A Little Shove’ tells a tale of the type of relationship that should never thrive, with the good times blurring the reality of bruises and scars. Only the twisted, irresistible pull of the fine line between love and hate keep the dysfunction alive and strong as the tortured souls feed their relational addiction to each other.  ‘Storm Painter’ yields another tale of love-gone-wrong, as an artist and a writer effectively hamper the other’s creative passions. ‘Cold Beer’ will leave you pining for love lost and better days. All of the stories are unique, bewitching throughout, down to the very last page.

“3 Women 4 Towns 5 Bodies” by Townsend Walker is an impeccably written collection of stories–each one different, but somehow creating the same effect. The dark tone, the morally ambiguous characters, and the vivid imagination of the author make this collection worthy of a permanent place on the bookshelf.

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“The 53rd Card” by Virginia Weiss

The53rdCardTHE 53RD CARD: A DARK TALE ABOUT FINDING LIGHT

Virginia Weiss
Beaver’s Pond Press (2018)
ISBN 9781592988150
Reviewed by Keshia Mcclantoc for Reader Views (6/18)

In “The 53rd Card: A Dark Tale about Finding Light,” Virginia Weiss paints the story of a lost soul haphazardly trying to navigate her way through a tumultuous life. This soul is Emma Addison, a slightly agoraphobic young woman who accidentally summons Lucifer after a series of dark events. It is then that Emma begins a strange relationship the devil, dancing through different mythos, magics, and stories to find her light at the end.

What excelled best in this novel was the elegant mix of different myths and stories. Emma is an inquisitive character who refuses to ground herself in a single religion; instead, she chooses to embrace them all. This openness leads her to encounters with a myriad of beliefs and stories, all which Emma encounters with a philosophical frankness. I found myself immersed in these moments of Emma’s contemplation, thinking along with her as she wrung out the true meaning of living.

Weiss excels in the mixing of these different beliefs not only through Emma’s own philosophical journey, but also in their accuracy as well. The amount of knowledge needed to put together such a stunning collection of myths is vast, and her intricate writing certainly proves that Weiss did her research.

Elegant seems a good descriptor of Weiss’s writing style, as her sentences read like poems on the page. She describes every scene, moment, and character with such life. From the beautiful moments to the darker ones, each one convinces the reader that they could be within the story itself.

Above all, I read Emma’s story as one of resilience. Her brief encounter with Lucifer leaves her with a power she didn’t intend to have but one she intends to use well. From healing, to gambling, to attempts to save the whole world from suffering, Emma’s story is one that represents the human capacity to do good. And she does this while anxious, alone, and scared. Though characters come in and out of Emma’s narrative, the story is hers alone. As her world and mind begin to unravel, this persistence becomes even more notable. Weiss did an excellent job in creating a strong, yet relatable female character.

Though I was overwhelmed by Weiss’s capacity to narrate such a richly descriptive story, there are moments where this became too much. Beyond the prologue, much of the first part of the novel is a slew of information about Emma’s life. Though this information regarding her hardships feels necessary to understand Emma as a character, I felt it would have been better had these moments been posited throughout the story, revealing more of Emma bit by bit. It felt like a moment of telling, rather than showing. This seemed to repeat at the end, with excess information seemingly pushed on the reader within the final ten pages or so. In both parts, beginning and end, the novel felt slow; as if I had a job to get through to get to the real story.

Despite this, the novel itself was thrilling to read. It is a book for anyone who is interested in the overlapping of religion and magic. It’s a story for anyone who wants to read about a lost soul finding her way and contemplating the world around her. “The 53rd Card,” by Virginia Weiss excels in its capacity for description and openness of religion, delivering a story where the protagonist is given the opportunity to come head on with these forces and find her light.

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“The Toad Who Loved Tea” by Faiz Kermani

TheToadWhoLovedTeaTHE TOAD WHO LOVED TEA

Faiz Kermani
Troubador Publishing Ltd. (2017)
ISBN 9781788039970
Reviewed by Sarina (age 4), Eliana (age 6) and Mom for Reader Views Kids (6/18)

My kids and I enjoyed reading “The Toad Who Loved Tea” by Faiz Kermani, a cute adventure about a toad named Tungtang who was not at all like other toads.

Tungtang loved adventure while all the other toads enjoyed sitting in the pond. She would come back with fantastic stories of her adventures until one day a crow laughed at Tungtang and said her stories were boring. The crow said, “To have a real adventure you would need to travel to where no one has traveled before, the town.” Tungtang was not sure what she should do, until the eldest toad told her of a prophecy that was predicted by Dustysox the Great. A toad would travel far and achieve human fame and glory. So Tungtang set off on her journey. After several weeks of travel, she finally made it to the town. Tungtang ventures into a tea shop and that is where she discovers she loves tea. The owners are having a hard time running the shop until they find who has been drinking their tea and making messes in their tea shop. Who would have thought a toad was exactly what they needed to save their shop?

“The Toad Who Loved Tea” by Faiz Kermani is creative and well written and has many colorful illustrations and silly rhymes throughout the book. This is a great story for early readers as my daughter Eliana could read along with me. Both girls loved the book and thought all the trouble Tungtang got into around the tea shop was very funny. They especially like the part where she became a tea tester and got to sit on a throne with a crown, in front of all the people who would travel from all over the world to come see the tea tasting toad.

The illustrations in the story allowed for the reader to envision all Tungtang’s adventures she had going into town and her experiences in the tea shop.

We highly recommend “The Toad Who Loved Tea” by Faiz Kermani as a great early reader book, and a soon to be family favorite.

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