The Lady Risks All by Stephanie Laurens

Since she is one of my all-time favorite authors, I knew that I would love the new book by Stephanie Laurens. But I didn’t know that the story would be so absorbing! I was barely able to put the book down, and finished it the day after it arrived on my doorstep – that’s pretty fast for a mom at home with 2 kids all day! Completely living up to my high expectations of her work, Stephanie Laurens blew me away with The Lady Risks All with her detailed characters, intricate storyweaving, and entertaining mystery.

The Lady Risks All tells the tale of Miranda Clifford, an orphaned child who lives with her aunt and brother in London 1823. It’s also the tale of Neville Roscoe, a notorious underworld kingpin who runs a large ring of gambling parlours and hells in and around London. He’s a brisk, determined man who believes he’s given up his chance for a family, and she’s a woman who has always been told she needed to mind her p’s and q’s even more than the normal person because her family money had come from trade. Throughout the book, we learn bits and pieces about each of these characters as they fight for and against one another – and their love. It’s a historical romance with several steamy scenes, and a complex storyline.

The Lady Risks All coverI love the attention that Stephanie Laurens pays to detail in her stories – it’s one of the reasons that she’s one of my favorite authors. She makes her characters come alive. Not only does she give them family, descriptions, opinions, ideas, and that sort of life, but she makes them come out of and beyond the page by making them even more than just a story on a page in a book. When I’m reading one of her books, I can’t stop thinking about the characters, wondering what will happen next, all the while confident that I’ve solved the mystery before the characters have solved it.

Of course, with her intricate storyweaving, it always happens that I don’t have the mystery solved. In fact, I don’t even usually have the full deck of information at that point. Stephanie Laurens does an amazing job of keeping just enough details close. She gives her readers the details to think they’ve solved the puzzle, but keeps them guessing as she slowly reveals and unravels the facts of the story. It’s amazing and awesome and part of the reason that I dream of emulating her as an author.

I’ve been an avid reader of mysteries since I was very young – I can still remember showing my dad a Stephen King book (and that didn’t go over very well). That experience of reading many mysteries, plus a sort of innate confidence that I’m smarter than everyone else usually gives me the confidence to believe that I have solved or will shortly solve any puzzle or mystery set before me. And when I read Stephanie Laurens books, I’m wrong every time. It’s thrilling to be wrong, especially because she doesn’t make it uncomfortable or grasp at straws to keep the reader guessing. Trust me, you’ll love to not solve these mysteries.

Of course, before I signed up to be a tour stop for her book tour, I knew that I would love the book. But I also have high expectations for Stephanie Laurens and my other favorite authors, so I always fear that this will be the one that makes me purge my bookshelf of all her works. Thankfully for me, she did not disappoint whatsoever – and I also love that the characters are woven into the stories from other books that she’s written, it makes it seem like there’s this whole universe of stories just waiting for her to pluck them out of the air and write them down. Which, in a way, is exactly how I imagine prolific writers work. In The Lady Risks All, Stephanie Laurens lives up to my high expectations with characters that come alive off the page, incredible storytelling, and an entertaining mystery.

The Lady Risks All

The Lady Risks All is on tour with TLC Book Tours, check out the reviews from these other tour hosts:

PS – I saw the book on the shelf at Kroger today!

Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher to facilitate my review. My opinions are honest and my own.

Complete Cake Mix Magic cookbook

Complete Cake Mix Magic Cookbook Review

When it comes to cake, my husband and I are in two different camps. He prefers to buy cakes premade at the grocery story, frosted, decorated and ready for him to cut and eat. I, however, am used to my family’s idea of cake – which is to make a unique cake for each individual family member’s birthday, the holiday we’re celebrating, or whatever occasion calls for cake. And we make them from scratch. Unfortunately, I don’t always have ingredients on hand or it takes too long to make certain cakes, I take on bigger projects than I can actually complete while taking care of the children or whatever else happens to the cakes I love. So to strike a compromise with my hubby, I’ve found that semi-homemade is his second favorite kind of cake. And that’s where the cookbook Complete Cake Mix Magic comes in.

Complete Cake Mix Magic cookbook

Decadent Chocolate Bundt Cake

Decadent Chocolate Bundt Cake

Prepared by Jill Snider, this cookbook is an excellent collection of several different kinds of cakes – 300 recipes to be exact, that as the tagline of the book says, are “just as good as homemade”. When reviewing this book, I tried out two special cakes – the first was for my son’s first birthday party. I made the Decadent Chocolate Bundt Cake for his birthday. I topped it with chocolate frosting that I warmed up in the microwave and drizzled over the top of the cake, added sprinkles and a candle. It went over very well with the party goers, although it was a bit rich for me. Since it’s not a huge cake, it worked out well because even a small piece was satisfying. It was definitely chocolate and very moist! I also love any recipe that uses the Bundt pan, because I so rarely use it and my husband thinks it doesn’t deserve a spot in the kitchen if it’s not used very often. I disagree, so I like to dig out recipes that use it often.

Apple Coffee Cake

Apple Coffee Cake

The second cake that I made from this cookbook was a coffee cake for the Bible study/friend time that I have weekly with a friend of mine. We take turns on who is hosting and who is bringing breakfast, and it was my turn to bring breakfast. When I was little, I remember my grandmother almost always had a coffee cake ready at her house. I think maybe it was the Tripoli group that would bring it over, but I’m not sure. At any rate, she had coffee cake and it was one of my fondest memories. So a coffee cake seemed the way to go. I tried the Apple Coffee Cake recipe, but I used the wrong pan and I think that made a big difference. I had a hard time choosing between the Apple Pinwheel Cake and the Apple Coffee Cake, and I think since I do have the springform pan that the pinwheel cake calls for, I should have gone with that option instead. But I did the Apple Coffee Cake and the only issue I had with it was my pan choice. The recipe calls for a tube pan, and I think that would’ve made a much steadier side. Since I used a Bundt pan, it seemed to crumble a bit on the side because I didn’t seal the layers of batter and apple very well to build strong edges. I’m also not very good at estimation – when you have to put a third of the batter in different layers, I usually end up with a ton on the first layer and barely any left for the last, which I did true to form on this recipe as well. So that would’ve been better, but those issues were with the cook and not the recipe. The recipe itself was fantastic. It was so delicious, perfectly sweet and moist, and it paired perfectly with coffee. My friend even kept some for her family because she really liked it! The recipe was definitely a success, even if my baking skills were off that day!

Overall, these were fantastic recipes. The ones I’ve already tried aren’t too difficult to make, taste fantastic, and are a great use of cake mixes. It really takes your basic mix to the next level and turns it into one of those desserts that no one can believe you made in your own kitchen! For the busy home cook, one who isn’t quite sure of their baking prowess yet, or any fan of cake mixes, this is a perfect cookbook.

Gift Pick 2012

Chosen for the 2012 Gift Guide

Gift Pick 2012

The Gateway Chronicles: The Six by K.B. Hoyle

Have you ever been on a family vacation that you didn’t particularly want to be attending, especially as a teenager? If so, then you’ll know exactly where Darcy Pennington is coming from as you read the first book in The Gateway Chronicles called The Six by K.B. Hoyle. It’s a fun book where a teenager and her friends (or those kids she hangs out with who seem to want to be her friends, but she can’t get beyond her own weirdness to really let them in) travel through a magical portal to the land of Alitheia where they find out that the six of them have a special calling. It’s a great young adult read with plenty of imagination and drama to keep the reader entertained. The Six by K.B. Hoyle is a creative work about teenagers and their capabilities for mistakes, the start of an intriguing series, and a light lesson for readers.

In The Six, we find the story of Darcy Pennington who is on vacation with her family (although she’d rather not be there) to a family summer camp where one of her less than favorite friends from school vacations every year. Her actions and interactions with other characters seems to show her as a normal teenager, which is to say that she’s obnoxious, petulant, bratty, and pretty self-absorbed. Despite her flaws, she does make friends at the camp and they follow her through a magical portal to the world of Alitheia where the group learns that a 200-year old prophecy has predicted their arrival, and that they are to save the world. A terrible evil has drifted into Alitheia, and it is up to The Six to save everyone. After that setup, it’s hard to predict the adventures that follow, but it’s a nice surprise to find a not completely predictable read in the realm of young adult books. We learn a bit about Darcy in this book, mostly through her failings that bring some more problems to the group.

My favorite part of the book isn’t the main character or even the story of the kids who are saving the world – to me, the best part is the world of Alitheia. It’s one of those books that makes me wish that I had such an active imagination to paint a whole universe with unique creatures and characters that have never been thought of before – it truly is amazing, and the writing makes it so alive and breathing that you can easily picture it in your mind. The creatures that inhabit the world of Alitheia range from low animals who are your basic, every day animals, to high animals who have thoughts and can interact with humans. Then you have the humans. My favorite creature on Alitheia is the nark who we meet through Yahto Veli. Narks are unique in that they are actually two persons who inhabit the same body – there’s a day nark (Veli) and a night nark (Yahto). They’re really captivating because they’re not the same person, they even look different. They live in the same body and they communicate for a minute or two before the other takes over their consciousness, but otherwise they’re completely separate. It was so fun to work that one out in my brain! The characters and the world of Alitheia reminded me very strongly of the movie Avatar, but that might also have been because I read the book and watched the movie around the same time.

We learn a bit about the world of Alitheia and the people and animals who populate it in The Six, but it’s clearly the start of a series so we don’t end the book with all the answers. What we do find in the book is a complete adventure that Darcy leads us on – it’s not just a book that sets up the rest of the story, it’s a great story on its own. Of course, quite a bit of the book is of and about Darcy, so we learn more about her and what goes on with her than we do about some of the other and possibly wiser members of the group. While I would’ve loved to learn more about some of the rest, the book is clearly centered on Darcy, so I wanted to tell you a bit more about her.

Darcy is a petulant, bratty teenager who would rather alienate people than make good friendships, and I can pretty much relate. I think we all have one of those periods in our lives when we pushed the limits on polite and good social behaviour. For me, it definitely happened during my teenage years and I’m very thankful that it’s past. For teenagers reading this book, they may feel a bit compelled by the story of Darcy – they may recognize themselves in the worst of her behaviour. Unfortunately, as it commonly is with teenagers, they’re much more likely to recognize and criticize someone else, but still – one can hope. I will keep reading the series in the hope of learning a little more about the rest of the cast, as well as learning what other adventures will happen and if the world of Alitheia will be saved.

Beyond the teenage fumbling and the amazingly well described world in which The Six is set, there is also a subtle undertone of morals is observable, but I doubt that I would’ve picked up on it as a teenager. As a parent, I like knowing that my kids are reading (or hearing, as my boys are not yet reading on their own), books that are at least causing them to question their own morals. In The Six I feel confident that the lessons in the background that are being read are positive lessons that teach my boys good morals, but it’s not an overwhelming point of the story so it doesn’t interrupt the adventure or feel like too much pressure to be good.

Alitheia is a world of adventure and a hero journey for our cast of characters. Darcy begins as a self-centered teenager and at the end she comes to realize that there may be more to life than only picking friends that are popular with other kids. It will be a fun series to continue, and I’m actually going to have a review of the second book soon. While it is most definitely a young adult book, I think it’s also a great book for parents to read – it never hurts to have your imagination challenged. I find that it makes me a better, and more creative, mom to have my imagination challenged by my reading. The Six by K.B. Hoyle is a fantastically descriptive book that describes not only the world of Alitheia and the unique people who populate it, but also delves into the lives and challenges of teenagers, the choices they make, and the problems that they face.

Check it out on Amazon through my affiliate link:

Disclosure: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Gift Pick 2012

Chosen for the 2012 Gift Guide

Pills Are Not For Preschoolers Cover

Pills Are Not for Preschoolers by Marilyn Wedge

Did you take prescription medication as a child? Did you have any classmates who did? When I was young, I don’t really remember anyone my age taking medications. Of course, they may have at home, but I don’t remember any medications being passed out at school. In fact, it was unusual in high school when a diabetic classmate had to take insulin. These days, though, our children are facing a much different school day – one in which the school nurse is a medication dispensary. The epidemic of children on prescription medication scares me, but the number of psychiatric diagnoses for children scares me even more. I always hope that there is a way out of such problems without medication, and Marilyn Wedge has done an excellent job of bringing another option to the plate. Marilyn Wedge uses clear explanations of complex therapy concepts to make hope to parents and caregivers of troubled and troublesome children real in her book Pills Are Not For Preschoolers.

Pills Are Not For Preschoolers CoverFamily therapist Marilyn Wedge has been in practice for over twenty years, and through that time she has seen a number of families and children. In the introduction, she remarks on the increase of psychiatric diagnoses and children being medicated for them in the US – it’s such a prevalent situation that she felt there was a need for another option, which she presents in her book Pills Are Not For Preschoolers. The chapters discuss various case studies from her own practice of children and families who have sought her help based on recommendations from family, friends, pediatricians, school counselors, and teachers. Each case study is used as an example to show how a particular therapeutic technique is used, how she learned to perfect her therapy sessions, and what she has done to avoid medication and psychiatric diagnoses for children. It is a powerful book where I was tearing up during descriptions of how a child transformed and cheering for the families. The book reads with a quick pace and transitions smoothly from one chapter to the next. I feel as though I’ve learned a good bit about family therapy, and I have a solid foundation of knowledge about why Wedge believes there is an alternative to medication for our children.

One of the typical characteristics of medical books tend to be either a dry, humorless, clinical approach to the topic or, on the other side of the spectrum, the author attempts to make the concepts that can be related to easily by the average reader by writing with abstract philosophical sections and waxing poetic. Wedge does an excellent job of steering clear from either extreme and presents the complicated world of family therapy, system theory, and strategic therapy in a way that brings the topic to the understanding of anyone – especially parents. For the parent who is dealing with a troubled child and wondering where to turn next, it proves a very understandable, straight forward, and readable text. It’s filled with information, explanations, history, techniques, and examples, but Wedge has a talent as a writer that allows her to reach the reader and impart her knowledge without it being a painful or tiring exchange.

A detail that really caught my eye in her book is the descriptions of each person that she uses to elaborate the therapy techniques and ideas that she is expressing. When she describes a patient or parents, she includes a physical description with hair and eye color, age, and even a description of the clothes that the individual was wearing at the first meeting. I found this level of detail to be intriguing – I wondered if she wrote it down as they walked in, or if she remembered it – as well as a very easy way to make me relate closer to the individual. Once I knew how he or she looked, I was able to get an idea of who the person was, and I think that may have been the point. Once she made the name into a real person for me, I was able to take what she was saying about the therapy as a more personal topic, where I was hoping that the doe-eyed girl would really be helped by her strategies, and I could see how she began to form her hypotheses about how the parents acted at home when she noted their perfectly pressed clothing and elegant dress. It was as though she was giving me a glimpse through her eye and showing me how a family therapist could work – it almost made me think that when I grew up, I could be a family therapist.

The most important part of Pills Are Not For Preschoolers for me is that it is a book that parents who are having problems with their children could read and use as a resource. While she does not recommend that parents attempt strategic therapy which is very complex, she does offer some excellent parenting suggestions that can be used by any parent. To me, it almost came off as a manual of what to do to make your family less likely to need the services of a family therapist. The appendix even includes some information on how to find a (good) family therapist, as well as the references and notes about her resources and an index which allows the reader to easily look up the topic of most pressing concern. For example, if you’d like to learn more about a particular therapy strategy, you can look each individual one up, or even look up the symptoms displayed in each case. It’s a very reader-friendly book, and as a parent I appreciated the option of reading it all at once or reading the most pertinent chapter of my preference.

In the end, I would recommend that all parents read this book. The examples and parenting strategies that she has included are a jumping off point of what do and what not to do as a parent. So many children are being medicated these days, that it’s almost guaranteed that at some point someone may suggest that one of your children may be afflicted with a psychiatric condition. For parents who are dealing with a troubled child, I think this book would be a great shoulder on which to lean during a difficult time – and I think that the information about therapy will help when choosing a family therapist. Without a doubt, I would seek the counsel of a family therapist before allowing my child to consume prescription medication, and I think that a reader of Wedge’s work would understand why I hold that stance. In Pills Are Not For Preschoolers, Marilyn Wedge provides a straight forward, reader friendly description of family therapy techniques that can help reframe behavioral problems in children as conquerable symptoms of problems within the family organism.

Pills Are Not For Preschoolers

Pills Are Not For Preschoolers is on tour with TLC Book Tours, check out the reviews from these other tour hosts:

Support my blog when you shop Amazon – my Amazon link include my affiliate ID, so I will receive a percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon after clicking my link!

Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher to facilitate my review. My opinions are honest and my own.

Say This, NOT That to Your Professor

The Perfect Care Package for Your New College Student

My kids are on the young side, and I like to think that I am too, so it may be wishful thinking, but I think that I’m more closely able to relate to the college student still instead of the parent of the college student. And it is on that reason that I like to base the subject of this post, because I think that I can offer some recommendations on the perfect care package that you can send to your new college student this year. In my experience, the first few months of college are the hardest. The support system of friends and knowledge that the student has actually managed to pass at least a class or two aren’t developed yet, so the new college student is still in a bit of a lurch. Whether he or she is trying to hold on to friends at home, friends who went off to other colleges, high school loves, or on the completely opposite end perhaps he or she is trying to forget home, high school, and forge a new life for him or herself. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s going to be a transition period for your child and it’s important that some support system exists. Even if they’re flying the coop, some help from mom and dad is probably not be unwelcome.

But what does a parent send to the student who has left home behind and gone on to hopeful collegiate success? What would be a perfect pick-me-up from home to remind your student that the family not only cares, but supports the college dream? Parents often have advice and guidance that they would love to pass on to their kids, but it’s hard to find the right moment to really send the encouragement and support without making the student feel as though their life may or may not live up to the expectations of the parents. Sometimes just receiving a book that means that the student can read on his or her own time without the pressure of being graded or having to answer quiz questions about it can help. Eventually your child will, between parties and study sessions, find that some advice would be helpful – even appreciated – but asking for it is often the hardest part.

Say This, NOT That to Your Professor

Part of the perfect care package for your new college student

I received a book written by Ellen Bremen, a college professor, called Say This, NOT That to Your Professor, and when I first read it I knew that it would be exactly perfect for a parent to send in a care package to a child. If I had only had this boo when I was in school, I like to think that I would’ve taken it all more seriously. I think that my favorite part of the book is that it’s written for a college student – when he or she runs into a problem, the table of contents is the perfect system to look up the answer. The chapters are written with a formula of examples of real life – what a student might say, what the professor thinks when the student says that, and example of a real story and a back story, as well as the information about what you should and shouldn’t say to your professor with an explanation of why those answers are correct. Not only are these real life examples of what Ms. Bremen as heard as a professor, but they’re what your child will run into at college. Right now, with Generation Tech, I think that one of the most important sections may be dealing with social media, technology, and putting down your cell phone. I really think that this will be an excellent resource for your college-bound student. While it would’ve made a great high school graduation gift, I think it is better as a part of the perfect care package for your new college student.

What else would I include in the perfect care package? I’m glad you asked! (Ok, I know I totally asked that, but you know, it flows.) I would also include at least a batch or two of chocolate chip cookies (what student doesn’t love cookies, and they can’t make them in their dorms – trust me, I tried when I was in a dorm!) with a piece of bread in it to keep from drying out and tasting stale, a roll or two of quarters, and a gift card to a restaurant that’s not too far from campus. If your child has a car at college, I’d also include a gift card for gas. There you go – now your kid has laundry money, at least one decent meal, snacks, and most importantly a resource of great information that they can read when they need help without having to ask. I think it will go a long way in building a great college start for your new college student!

The Prisoner of Heaven

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruis Zafon

One of the jobs to which I’ve never considered myself a worthy applicant is that of a book shop owner. Or even working in a book shop. You see, I don’t think I’d actually put in all that much quality working time, and I know that I would spend my entire paycheck on new books. But it is very interesting to read how the son of a book shop owner turned into an investigator to help his friend. The Prisoner of Heaven is a tale of a man concerned with his marriage, his job, and his best friend. But more so, it is the story of a man finding out the truth of the past, the truth of the present and the hope for his future. Carlos Ruis Zafon has elegantly woven an incredibly emotional story with a powerful mystery that leaves the reader waiting for more.

The Prisoner of HeavenIn The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruis Zafon, Daniel Sempere agonizes over his marriage, assists his father in making their book shop for financially sound, but he spends most his time acting as an investigator on a mystery which involves his best friend Fermin. Set in Spain, this work is interesting to me off the cuff on place alone – Spain is one of those countries that I like to think I would’ve visited if I had ever done a session studying abroad. We find Daniel Sempere working in his father’s book shop and living in the apartment above it with his wife. His best friend Fermin also works in the shop, and when a mysterious stranger with lots of money comes in and leaves a message for Fermin, Daniel begins his work as an amateur detective. The story that he unravels is filled with pain, confusion, sadness, a lost fortune, a lost writer, and more turns than Daniel ever expected. Blood is shed with little sympathy, lives are lost, but the love and friendship that began the story carries through. For me, the resolution was less than complete – but the book is in a series called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. While each novel is capable of standing alone, together they complete their resolutions.

The most incredible part of this work is the complex emotions that, while only written on paper, become almost palpable to the reader. There were times when I did not want to continue reading – such as when we learned of Fermin’s imprisonment and the horrendous treatment to which the prisoners were subjected. It was not for lack of storyline or poor writing, it was the way the writing made the emotions so real that some of the pages of my copy are now tear-stained. I laughed with him, I cried with him, but the most amazing part is that I felt every emotion with the main characters. I wish I could find a perfect quote without spoiling the work, but at this point I’ve not yet found one. I suppose you’ll have to trust me on this – be ready to feel when you read this book.

The mystery in the story – that of the life of Fermin – is a well-developed story in itself. Fermin is anxious to marry his bride, but he worries that he will not be permitted to do so because of his past. And so Daniel, loyal friend that he is, begins to put together the puzzle that was Fermin’s life. He is follows the mystery as it unravels, learning more about himself and his family than he could have foreseen. It’s a story that is tying together the threads left open from the other books in the series – The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel’s Game, but it’s still able to stand on its own. While you know that not everything is being answered and there are some cliffhangers waiting for you to read further, it’s still worthy of a read on its own.

After the emotion and the compelling mystery, the most important factor of the book when I read it was the threads that were left to be woven into a complete story. Yes, it’s capable of standing on its own, but it really feels as though it’s a book that should be read with the others. A reader doesn’t have a specific order to read all the books, but it isn’t a complete tale until the rest are read. For me, that’s a push to read the rest of the books and I don’t mind, but a reader who is not looking to be dropped into a series now probably wouldn’t enjoy it. There are times when you’re ready for a series and times when you’re not, and I would recommend reading The Prisoner of Heaven and Zafon’s other works together as a series.

I’m a semi-serious history fan, as you may have seen in some of my other book reviews, but the truth is that I don’t know much about history. So when I have a work of fiction that can at least fill in some of the blanks like Perla or The Prisoner of Heaven, it’s something that I can enjoy. I know that fiction isn’t known for the accurate portrayal of history, but I can still appreciate it because I don’t know what really happened, I’ve never studied, and I think it’s a subject that I might find worthy of study if a novel has brought it to my attention. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruis Zafon is a novel that intrigues a reader to follow-up on its counterparts, catches a reader intensely in emotion, and provides a small history lesson in the form of a mystery. It’s a worthy read.

The Prisoner of Heaven

The Prisoner of Heaven is on tour with TLC Book Tours, check out the reviews from these other tour hosts:

Support my blog when you shop Amazon – my Amazon links include my affiliate ID, so I will receive a percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon after clicking my link!

Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher to facilitate my review. My opinions are honest and my own.

Coverof Giving Up the Ghost

Giving Up the Ghost by Eric Nuzum

My favorite class in high school, taught by my favorite teacher, was all about writing memoirs. We learned the art of the memoir – making a story that is all about you relevant to someone else – and we were challenged to use what we learned to write. Although I’m not sure I ever really accomplished the task clearly, I did learn enough to know when someone else has done the job well, and I know that Eric Nuzum is one of those authors. Giving Up the Ghost by Eric Nuzum is a brutally honest tale of self-discovery, friendship, and growing up.

Coverof Giving Up the GhostIn Giving Up the Ghost, we meet Eric Nuzum in his present-day life, where he has a wife and a child and is trying to hunt down haunted places to see if ghosts really exist. We learn from his story of the past that there were times when he felt haunted by a ghost – The Little Girl – and he learned to avoid any possible encounters with ghosts in his life to avoid feeling haunted. He was a slightly atypical, unadjusted midwestern teenager struggling with emotions, expression, and understanding himself. The Little Girl haunted his dreams, his thoughts, and the attic in his parents home where he heard bumps in the night and the door opening on its own. It terrified him, and he turned to drugs and alcohol. Whether it was the influence of the ghost, the lack of sleep, his incomprehension of normal relationships, or the influence of mind altering substances, his mental status began to decline until the point where he was admitted to the mental ward of a local hospital.

The honesty with which Giving Up the Ghost is written really impressed me. The self-deprecating humor felt like something I would’ve written. He didn’t make light of the situations, or even the actions he took in his darkest times that most people would’ve shied away from even sharing with the public. Instead, he penned a straightforward account of what happened, when it happened, and how it worked to affect his life. He went from a semi-normal, punk rock kid to a 22-day stint in a mental ward – not an easy transition – and somehow transformed his life to what we know of his present day where he appears on CNN and even works for NPR. In a way, it’s hard to believe that the kid who went through that phase growing up was able to rise above it at all, but he did. The truth of his tale is one of the most compelling reasons to read it.

In addition to the honesty, I also found myself drawn to the parts of the story that were kernels of my life. For example, part of his educational career was through Kent State University – I studied there too. My road wasn’t as hard, deep, gritty, or drug-addled as his was, but there were so many similarities that I felt like we almost led the same life, only he did it more emphatically. We even have had the same sense of being haunted. Although I still steer clear of anything remotely related to ghosts, I think after reading this book that I might be more compelled to face my fear and not letting it win. To me, that’s the most powerful message from this memoir – Nuzum laid out the back story of why ghosts so terrified him, in grizzly detail, and then he proceeded to tell us how he faced his fear and what he learned.

The friendship that was most influential in Nuzum’s teenage years and early twenties was with Laura Patterson. We were treated with descriptions of his outings with her, how she made him feel like the most important person in the world, but also how she kept him at an arm’s length away. We learned about Laura through the same bits and pieces that Nuzum picked up along the way – never her whole story, never much at a time, but we read along as their relationship unfolded. From the first time they hung out to their regular appearances at a gas well or at the Rocky Horror show in Cuyahoga Falls (been there too!), I was equally frustrated with how little we actually knew about Laura. We learned early in the book that she had passed away, but most of the way through the book I found myself speculating how and why and taking every detail to try to fit it into a picture that might explain why she was gone from his life. Friendship can be a very powerful force, especially when facing mental illness, but in Nuzum’s case it was also one of the most confounding forces in his life.

One of the hardest parts of this book to read and understand is Nuzum’s time in the mental ward of the hospital. I doubt that most people, outside of those who did spend any time at all in such a facility, could understand and relate to what he was describing and may even feel uncomfortable reading about his mental decline and hospital time. While most of his real recuperation happens outside of the hospital, his path begins to be altered while he is there. We see him in the darkest of his days, and I think it’s safe to assume that anyone who has reinvented him or herself could understand the feeling that comes together with that process. On the other hand, we see his present-day character facing his fears – this too, is a portion of his growing up. He has taken that which terrified him in his past and relentlessly pursued it, forcing himself to overcome the negative feelings which were associated with that dark period in his early life. His path to growing up is an excellent example that it is possible to rise above dark days.

With this review I broke one of my cardinal book reviewing rules. I read other reviews before I finished the book and before I wrote my own. I was so pumped, so excited, so amazed to find myself in this book – I was sure that everyone else would love it as much as I did. Unfortunately, I found several negative and scorching reviews. I couldn’t believe that these people didn’t find anything funny in the story. I read a review that called the work “pathetic” or “uncomfortable”, people who said that they had to force themselves to read it, and I was just startled. To me, this book is not only an outlet for the author (as any memoir is), but it’s also a call-to-action and an example for the rest of it. Maybe it’s just because I lived nearby and I had a similar Midwestern teenage wasteland youth that it was so powerful to me, but I think that many people would benefit from reading this book. For example, teenagers now in the Facebook era could learn not only what good music is, but also how someone was able to recover from the folly of youth. Perhaps they could also learn a lesson about friendship – there is so much press about bullying now, maybe people could learn how to be a better friend, more like Laura. I think parents of troubled children and anyone with ghosts of their own pasts to overcome could also benefit from reading Giving Up the Ghost.

Ultimately, I loved this book. It was one of the books that I have taken the longest to read, but only because I wanted to prolong it. I wanted to be able to return to this book, to this writing of a person whose life I seem to have lived in a pale shadow – from the best to the worst of details, and it reminded me that facing up to our past is not only necessary, but it can be healing as well. Growing up is hard, but it’s not always the worst part of our lives and it doesn’t always happen all at once. Giving Up the Ghost by Eric Nuzum is a powerful read about growing up, friendship, and self-discovery.

Giving Up the Ghost

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Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher to facilitate my review. My opinions are honest and my own.