Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty – A Review

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs Caitlin Doughty

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death by Caitlin Doughty
Nonfiction | Science | Humor
Published by W. W. Norton Company
Released 10 September 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

“We can’t make death fun, but we can make learning about it fun. Death is science and history, art and literature. It bridges every culture and unites the whole of humanity!”

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love the work that Caitlin Doughty does to promote death-positivity. Like many people, I found her via her incredible YouTube channel, Ask a Mortician (which you should definitely go binge-watch after reading this post). Her non-fiction books have been on my radar since the first, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, was published in 2014. I’m baffled that I haven’t read her books yet since, again, I’m a huge fan.

Having recently gotten in the mood to try audiobooks again, I found the audiobook version of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? on Scribd, narrated by the author herself. I’ll probably buy the physical book and re-read it at some point, but the audiobook is a perfect way to take the information in. Caitlin’s personality shines through so much, and the listening experience is an absolute delight.

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Caitlin Doughty

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? is a collection of questions from children about death. The questions are both profound, important, and, in many cases, hilarious. Caitlin’s answers are likewise perfect, relatable, and, well, hilarious. Are you a fan of light, yet very dark, humor? You’ll love this book.

The questions that Doughty answers in this book range from things like “What would happen if I swallow popcorn kernels before I die and then get cremated?” to “What happens to astronaut bodies in space?” My favorite question (and largest disappointment) was her answer to whether it’s okay and possible to have a “Viking” funeral. You know, laying the body on a small boat and having someone epically shoot a flaming arrow at it, and then watching as the body burns away. Not gonna lie – that was pretty much how I wanted my body disposed of upon death. Spoiler: it’s not possible. Whomp whomp. 

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Although the questions come from children, the book is appropriate for readers of all ages. There were certainly times when I wished that the answers had been longer and explained in more detail, but Doughty has plenty of detailed videos, and two other books, for that. Part of the charm of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeball? is its accessibility. Not everyone wants a ton of detail on decay and funerary practices, so for those people something lighter like this is a great introduction to the topic.

I’m sure there are people that aren’t going to agree with this opinion, but I feel that it’s really important to embrace death and frame it in a positive way. As I mentioned before, that’s something that Caitlin Doughty specializes in, but I want to emphasize it again. I’m unsure if this is true in other countries around the world, but in America, it seems as though people actively avoid thinking about death.

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I get it – no one wants to think about something as scary as death. Guess what, though? It’s inevitable. By not growing up in a death-positive environment, it makes grief so much harder to handle. I’m not saying that death will ever be easy because it won’t. Losing the people you love is hard. All I’m saying is that if, as a culture, we become more aware of dying, death, and funeral processes, it would be easier to know what’s ahead of us.

If you’re looking for answers to your burning death questions, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs is the perfect place to start. Whether you read it physically or listen to the amazing audiobook, you’ll find yourself laughing at Caitlin’s infectious personality and learning about corpse disposal at the same time. Never thought you’d do that, huh?


Have you read any of Caitlin Doughty’s books? What are your thoughts? Let me know down in the comments!




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Review Quickies #1

Sometimes I read small books or graphic novels that might not warrant a full review. I’ll post about these books periodically in Review Quickies, starting with a few graphic novels I read while moving this past week.


Super Chill Adam Ellis

Super Chill: A Year of Living Anxiously by Adam Ellis
Graphic Novel | Humor
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing
Released October 23rd, 2018
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_2_and_a_half_stars

I won this short graphic novel in a contest hosted by Andrews McMeel Publishing along with several others. I’ve been following Adam Ellis, a former Buzzfeed contributor, for a while on Instagram, so I assumed that I would enjoy this. Unfortunately, though, I was mainly just bored while reading this. There were one or two short comics in here that I could identify with, but as for the majority of them, I’ve actually already forgotten what the comics were about. I do love his art style, however, so an extra star for that. Overall though, it really missed the mark for me.


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Total Jazz by Blutch
Non-Fiction | Graphic Novel | Jazz
Published by Fantagraphics
Released February 14th, 2018
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_0_and_half_star

I can’t remember the last time I rated something less than one star, but this short graphic novel 100% deserves it. When I came across this title on Hoopla I got excited because I adore jazz and was fascinated by a graphic novel about famous jazz musicians. What I got, however, was a racist, nonsensical jumble of bad art and few words.

What do I mean by racist? The book starts off with some Native American caricatures, drawn by a Frenchman:

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These caricatures serve no purpose and I was confused about why the author/artist would even include this. Once he started talking about jazz, things didn’t get much better. I was almost angry to have wasted my time on this book.

Even if you’re a jazz fan, do yourself a favor and skip this.


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Waves by Ingrid Chabbert
Illustrated by Carole Maurel
Nonfiction | Memoir | Graphic Novel | LGBT
Published by Archaia
Released May 14th, 2019
Originally published in France, 2017
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

We’re finally getting to the good stuff! This graphic novel was poetic, heartbreaking, and beautiful. The story is based on author Ingrid Chabbert’s own experience and follows a young woman and her wife as they try to conceive. It’s a difficult pregnancy, however, and they have to face a loss neither of them could prepare for. While the story is simple, it’s immensely powerful. Carole Maurel’s beautiful artwork adds a lot to the story as well:

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I can’t recommend this graphic novel enough. I was able to find it for free on Hoopla, but regardless of how you have to get your hands on it, be sure to read it!


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A Fire Story by Brian Fies
Nonfiction | Memoir | Graphic Novel
Published by Harry N. Abrams
Released March 5th, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

To end this post, we have another five-star read. As you can probably tell, I was on a bit of a non-fiction graphic novel kick the week before I moved (keep an eye out for my last non-fiction graphic novel review – They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, which is getting its own post).

A Fire Story caught my eye because it was something that I could relate to, as my family’s house burned down in February 2006. It was a surreal experience to lose everything you and your family had ever owned, but thankfully everyone was okay.

Brian Fies’ own experience with losing his house involved the massive California wildfires of last year when his whole neighborhood was quickly consumed by flames. The emotions he experienced felt so real to me and reminded me of everything my family went through when our own house burned down. With wildfires becoming the new normal in California (as well as in other parts of the world), now’s a good time to give this graphic novel a read.



I really enjoyed reading all of these non-fiction graphic novels, although I do wish I could take back the fifteen minutes I spent on Total Jazz. If you have any recommendations for other great non-fiction graphic novels, please let me know in the comments!!




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A Hero Born by Jin Yong – A Review

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A Hero Born (Legends of the Condor Heroes #1) by Jin Yong
Fantasy | Martial Arts
Translated from Chinese
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Released September 17, 2019
Originally Published in China in 1957
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Here’s a thing you guys should know about me: I tend to plan out hardcore, impossible-to-do ideas and then quickly abandon them. Now that I’m receiving mental health treatment, I know that it’s one of my bipolar disorder symptoms. A perfect example of this random urge I get was the idea I had last year to dedicate each month to a different country and only read books from that country, calling the challenge “Read the World.”

Obviously, this didn’t work out for a few reasons. First, finding translated literature, especially from some small countries, can be an incredibly frustrating endeavor. Second, it was going to be damn near impossible to read only translated books, especially with so many amazing books coming out in the U.S. that I wanted to read. And third, it was just going to be too much.

However, for the one month when I somewhat tried to stick with the plan, I settled on reading Chinese books. What I did read that month was really fun, plus I had a guest post from the amazing Meonicorn.

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The first Chinese edition

Since fantasy is my favorite genre, I obviously started off my search for books to read by looking for original Chinese fantasy novels. I discovered the Legends of the Condor Heroes series, written by Jin Young in the late 50s/early 60s. It sounded amazing – a martial arts generational saga taking place during the Song Empire and featuring Genghis Khan? Yes, please.

Unfortunately, though, finding an English translation was so difficult that the search was one of the reasons I quickly abandoned the whole “Read the World” endeavor. I added the book to my Goodreads TBR and, sadly, gave up the search.

And then, a few months later, I saw a new English translation for the first of the novels, A Hero Born, on Edelweiss!! I reached out to the publisher and was ridiculously excited when I received an ARC of this book in the mail.

I’m so thrilled that this series is getting a new English translation and being released. The first book was incredible. I couldn’t put it down and gave it a solid five-star rating. I can’t believe I have to wait until 2020 for the second book. I can say with confidence that A Hero Born will be on my top ten books of 2019 list.

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Jin Yong

Whew, I guess that’s enough backstory. Let’s get to the book itself.

Legends of the Condor Heroes is an epic Chinese martial arts fantasy series. It was originally a serialized story published in the Hong Kong Commercial Daily, but eventually was published in novel form.

The story starts off by the reader meeting two sworn brothers, Yang Tiexin and Guo Xiaotian, who pledge to one another that their children will be bonded just as they are. If the children are both of the same gender, they will become sworn siblings; if they are not, they will be married.

After a tragic event occurs, the children are separated, and Guo Xiaotian’s son, Guo Jing, ends up being raised in Mongolia, the best friend and sworn brother of Genghis Khan’s son. He is taught martial arts from a group known as the “Seven Freaks of Jiangnan.” Unbeknownst to Guo Jing, however, he has been entered into a martial arts contest which he’ll fight at 18 years of age. By the end of the novels, he’s making his way into China and has to put both his courage and skill to the test.

This novel was extraordinary. The fight scenes were so well-written and intense. In many novels, fight scenes are difficult to describe, but author Jin Yong wrote it in such a way that you can easily visualize every step taken amongst the warriors.

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Genghis Khan

The antagonists in the story were conniving, manipulating, and, in one particular case, downright terrifying. About halfway through A Hero Born, we encounter a monstrous pair of martial artists known as Copper Corpse and Iron Corpse. Together, they’re known as Twice Fowl Dark Wind and they’ve perfected what is called the Nine Yin Skeleton Claw, a horrible move that slaughters their victims and leaves holes in the skull, right through the bone.

If you’re familiar with martial arts and Kung Fu literature, then the paragraph above won’t be shocking. When Chinese names and martial arts techniques are translated into English, they often end up with descriptive names that seem unusual to Western readers. If you’re not used to these sorts of names, please don’t let it put you off from the story; stick with it, and it’ll quickly lose its strangeness.

I enjoyed watching our protagonist, Guo Jing, grow up throughout the novel. We follow him from being in his mother’s womb to when he’s grown and ventures into China, and it’s fascinating watching his character development. Many of the other characters are just as amazing, but you don’t get to know any of the others as deeply as you do Guo Jing. I’m hoping that in the rest of the novels we get to know even more characters as intimately.

There’s a little bit of everything in this book, from love, war, betrayal, and friendship to amazing scenery, fight scenes, and dialogue. The only thing that I disliked about the book is that I have to wait a little longer before reading the second book in this series.

Legends of the Condor Heroes is the most famous fantasy martial arts series in China, and author Jin Yong has been compared to J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. Reading A Hero Born, I understand these comparisons. There’s a good reason for it. If you’re looking for a new series to lose yourself in, or if you’re a fan of martial arts, this series is definitely one that you should check out.


Do you think you’ll be reading the Legends of the Condor Heroes series? Let me know why or why not in the comments!




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Vicious by V.E. Schwab – A Review

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Vicious (Villains #1) by V.E. Schwab
Fantasy | Science Fiction
Published by Tor Books
Released September 24, 2013
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

Vicious was one of the first books that the online book community turned me on to; it just took me a couple of years to finally read it. And oh my my, I loved it.

This is the second Victoria/V.E. Schwab book that I’ve read and reviewed on Read Yourself Happy, the first being City of Ghosts, which was incredibly enjoyable.

Vicious is the first book in a duology and is about two roommates at university who are both brilliant and strange. They decide to experiment to find out if it is possible to become an EO, or ExtraOrdinary – basically a superhero. They discover that an important part of the process is having a near-death experience, and they both take their turns. Things don’t turn out quite as they imagine, however.

I was pretty much hooked on this novel from the start, as the first chapter involves a mysterious man and a dead girl walking through a graveyard for some nighttime gravedigging. Sure, it’s dark, but so is my taste in books.

We see the story from both Victor and Eli’s perspective, and I enjoyed how different the two characters are, from their desires and personalities to their goals and motivations. There are also a couple of sidekicks – Victor’s prison buddy Mitch, and Sydney, a teenage girl with an extraordinary gift that Victor picked up on the side of the road.

This is a revenge story more than anything, as we learn right away. Something happened between the former best friends, and the story starts off with Victor hinting that he wants to get back at Eli.

Vicious is the perfect book for comic book fans, as it deals with characters with superhuman powers. Also, just like a lot of our favorite superheroes, neither Victor nor Eli are good people. They both have many qualities that make them just as much a villain as a hero, and that quality adds so much dimension into the overall story.

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I’m so glad I loved this book because I went into it wanting to love it. I follow Victoria Schwab on Instagram and Twitter, and she just seems like such a genuinely wonderful human. I look forward to having the opportunity to meet her at the end of August at a signing at the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, and I’m going to try to hold back my fangirling as much as possible.

If you’re a comic book fan, like dark sci-fi/fantasy, or just want to read something complex, interesting, and beautifully written, you might want to run to the bookstore and pick Vicious up. It’s damn near perfect.


Have you read Vicious? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.


Want more Victoria/V.E. Schwab? Check out her other books:

Vengeful | City of Ghosts | A Darker Shade of Magic | The Near Witch | This Savage Song

Here are a few other similar titles you might be interested in:

Six of Crows | Once & Future | Roar | The Ocean at the End of the Lane | An Ember in the Ashes | The Boneless Mercies | The Price Guide to the Occult




Don’t forget to follow me on social media:

Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads | Pinterest | Instagram | Amazon Wishlist

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – A Review

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Magical Realism
Published by William Morrow Books
Released June 18, 2013
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I re-read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane during the 2019 Reading Rush as my selection for the “Read a book with five or more words in the title” prompt.

Neil Gaiman has been one of my favorite authors for years, and this was my third re-read of this particular book. It’s quite short (just 181 pages), so I was able to finish it in a single afternoon. It’s a magical realism story that deals with memories, sacrifice, and friendship, and has a very melancholy yet hopeful atmosphere.

Our main character returns to his hometown for a funeral and ends up at an old house at the end of the lane where he grew up. He sets down at the pond and remembers his childhood, especially his friend Lettie Hempstock, and all of the unusual and magical events that took place when he was a child.

There are monsters, magical lands, an adorable kitten that’s pulled from the ground, and so much more. Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother are all amazing characters, and they’re the real stars of this novel.

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You’re left wondering if these events really happened, and that’s part of the magic of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, along with some of Gaiman’s other books. There are questions that you’ll think of while reading this book that are never explicitly answered, but it does not at all take away from the story. In fact, it makes it more enchanting.

The reason Gaiman is one of my favorite authors is his ability to write fantastical, dark, and whimsical narratives, and this novel is an absolutely perfect example of that.

This book features a child as the main character, but it’s typically found in the adult section of bookstores. I think this is a book that people of all age ranges can enjoy. There are a few scenes that feature suicide and sex, although none of these scenes are particularly graphic, so I feel that it’s definitely okay for the young adult audience.

I’m not going to lie – this is a very difficult book to review, especially when I’m not trying to spoil anything. I really believe that this is a book that you should go into blind. While I understand that Neil Gaiman’s writing isn’t for everyone, if you have enjoyed any of his other novels, please give this one on a shot! I hope you’ll love it as much as I do.


Have you read The Ocean at the End of the Lane? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments!


Want more Neil Gaiman? Here are a few reviews of his other books:

Good Omens The Graveyard Book The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch


Check out these other books you might enjoy:

Summer of Salt Furthermore | The Night Circus | White is for Witching | City of Ghosts | The Price Guide to the Occult | The Light Between Worlds




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If you would like to support Read Yourself Happy, you can donate through Ko-Fi!

The Protector by Elin Peer – A Review

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The Protector (Men of the North #1) by Elin Peer
Romance | Science Fiction
Self-Published
Released July 6, 2017
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_2_stars

The Protector is a book that is way out of my comfort zone because it’s a smutty romance novel, which I don’t read very often. I was in the mood for some romance, though, and found this book for free on Kindle Unlimited.

This is the first book in a ten-book series set in a futuristic dystopian world recovering from a devastating war. The inhabitable parts of the world are split in half, one half being the Motherland and the other being called the Northlands.

The Motherland is ruled entirely by women, a decision that was made due to their belief that World War III was caused by men. The story is set 400 years into the future, and the war left much of the planet completely uninhabitable. The Motherland is pacifistic, vegan, and people no longer enter into marriages or paired relationships. Men living in the Motherlands tend to be small and docile, with many “feminine” qualities.

Then we have the Northlands. In the Motherlands, it is against the law to visit the Northlands or possess photos of the “Nmen” who live there. The Northlands are inhabited almost entirely by men, with only a few women. Whereas men in the Motherlands are small and docile, men in the Northlands are strong, eat meat, hunt, and have more traditional views on relationships (some of which are outdated by even our standards).

Our main character, Christina Sanders, is an archaeologist who convinces her government to let her enter the Northlands to excavate the remains of a library. When she arrives, she is given a bodyguard, as the ruler of the Northlands knows it will be difficult to protect her in a land where women are scarce. However, Christina is horrified to find that she has to choose her “protector” after men fight to the death to be considered for the position. She chooses Alexander Boulder, one of the most prominent men in the kingdom and a very successful businessman (although we never learn much about what he does in the book). In order to remain in the Northlands to excavate, she is forced to marry Alexander.

Now that we have the plot out of the way, let’s get into my thoughts on the book. While there were definitely some very, very steamy scenes in the book, I just couldn’t get behind this novel. The world-building was weak at best, the characters were all walking cliches, and the sexism was so blatant that I was barely able to get through it.

In the Motherlands, men are docile and delicate (I know I keep using that word docile, but I seriously have no other word to describe them), and due to their lack of masculinity, women no longer enjoy sex. Also, women now rule the world entirely because they believe men to be unfit for ruling and are too warlike and brutish. Christina is swept off her feet by Alexander because she’s never been turned on by a man before. The gender stereotypes were so annoying and off-putting and were such a big part of the book that I had to force myself to finish reading it.

The main characters all act like children and none of them are at all believable. Much of the book was predictable and boring.

I just can’t recommend this book. There have got to be better dystopian romances out there. If you know of any, please leave your recommendations in the comments!


Have you read The Protector? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!




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A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher – A Review

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A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C.A. Fletcher
Science Fiction | Post-apocalyptic
Published by Orbit
Released April 23, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_3_stars

This book was a rollercoaster of emotions for me. There were times when I loved this book and plenty of other times when I absolutely hated it. How I felt about this book essentially looked like this:

UntitledFun story: my brother texted me when I was about 50% through with the book to ask me what I thought of it. I told him that it was fine, nothing special. Then, around 10pm the same day, I texted him again to tell him that I changed my mind and I absolutely hated the book. Finally, the following morning, after I had finished the book, I once again sent him a message, this time stating that I actually ended up enjoying it.

I can’t remember the last time my mind changed so frequently while reading a book.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is set in a post-apocalyptic world after most of the population has died off after some unknown event caused women to stop giving birth.

The story is told from the point-of-view of Griz, a teenager who lives with their family on an island near what is left of the British Isles. One day a traveling merchant shows up and entices them all with tales of other survivors and places he’s seen on his travels. On the traveler’s final night there, however, he slips something into their food and steals one of the family’s dogs. Griz wakes up just in time to see the traveler’s ship rounding the corner of the island, and Griz decides to chase after him in order to get the dog back.

I’ve mentioned time and time again on Read Yourself Happy that my favorite fictional genre is post-apocalyptic. I’m so intrigued by stories about the end of the world and how the remaining population would survive. This book has been on my radar for at least six months when I started seeing bloggers receive ARCs of it. I’ve always been attracted to books with a nearly-empty world as its setting.

The first thing about this novel that I want to talk about is the pacing. I found that I had to push myself through the book, which is rare for a post-apocalyptic story. This book could have been about fifty pages shorter with no impact on the story. For the majority of the book, the only character we’re dealing with is Griz, and that doesn’t always work. Griz does encounter a few people during the journey, but the book is basically like a post-apocalyptic Castaway.

Another aspect of the book that I wasn’t crazy about was the character’s voice. I don’t think we’re ever explicitly told Griz’s age, but it reads as though we’re dealing with a teenager. The book is told in a diary format, and while the way Griz writes about the journey is fine, I just was not a fan of the tone or voice of the character.

At one point Griz meets a female traveler who speaks French, and I loved the entire section about their travels together. They have to learn how to communicate with hand signals, broken words, and an English-French dictionary. This section was definitely my favorite of the book and I loved their relationship with one another.

One of the things that I did not like about this novel was the way C.A. Fletcher writes foreshadowing. Good foreshadowing should be discreet, something we barely notice. However, in this book, there are a lot of sentences along the line of “at that time I didn’t know [blank] would be my downfall.” The foreshadowing was so obvious that it bored me. When the author is constantly telling us that bad things are going to happen, it takes something away from the storytelling.

In terms of the novel’s post-apocalyptic setting that C.A. Fletcher does well is with Griz’s sense of wonder in the old world. We’re never explicitly told what year this novel is set in, but as the buildings are crumbling and nature is overtaking the cities, it feels at least 100 years into the future, if not more. Griz’s fascination with the old world and, especially, trying to understand what a populated world would have been like were very well done. Setting the world so far in the future was a great choice.

“When the world was full, did everyone smell the same? Or were you all distinct from one another? I can see from the old pictures what a crowd looked like, but I don’t know what it smelled like. Or sounded like even. That’s something I often wonder about. Did all the voices become one big sound, the way the individual clink of pebbles on a stony beach adds up to a roar and a thump in the waves? That’s what I imagine it was like, otherwise all those millions of voices being heard and distinct from one another at the same time would have run you mad.”

I don’t write to spoil the story for anyone, but there are some very surprising twists at the end of the novel. I wasn’t sure exactly how I felt about some of the twists until I actually finished the novel and could reflect on the novel as a whole. In fact, one of the biggest twists towards the end is what prompted me to tell my brother that I hated the book.

Ultimately, A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is a book about truth and loyalty. It’s worth a read if you are a fan of post-apocalyptic stories, but I wouldn’t expect a masterpiece going into it. There are a lot of problems, such as the pacing and density of the novel, but overall it was worth the effort.


Have you read A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World? What did you think?




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Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno – A Review

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Summer of Salt by Katrina Leno
YA | Magical Realism | Contemporary
Published by HarperTeen
Released June 5, 2018
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

On By-the-Sea, you and me will go sailing by
On waves of green, softly singing too.
On By-the-Sea, you and me will be forever young
And live together on waves of blue. 

This isn’t a book that was on my radar until I purchased it to participate in Chelsea Palmer’s Facebook book club. I am so thankful that I decided to read it, however. I absolutely adored this book, and it’s the perfect novel to read now that it’s summer.

Summer of Salt takes place on the island of By-the-Sea and follows the Fernwehs family, who are known to have magic. Georgina and Mary Fernweh are twins nearing their 18th birthday, and Georgina is beginning to think that her magical gifts will never come.

The island is known for hosting a rare bird named Annabella that arrives every summer. The island is remote, but every year a whole hoard of bird watchers arrive and take over the island. Annabella is particularly special to the Fernweh family and might have magical qualities of her own.

There are two new bird watchers on the island this summer, Prue and her brother Harrison. While Harrison is obsessed with Annabella, Prue and Georgina strike up an adorable romantic relationship.

This summer, however, Annabella doesn’t show up, and everyone on the island is worried about her. Meanwhile, Mary begins behaving strangely, and Georgina tries to understand why.

As I said before, I really enjoyed this novel. It was a relatively short read (less than 300 pages), and the story moved along at the perfect pace. It was also a very atmospheric book, and actually reminded me a lot of Leslye Walton’s The Price Guide to the Occult, which I read back in February.

I was intrigued by the very first sentence:

On the island of By-the-Sea you could always smell two things: salt and magic.

While the story was a bit predictable at times, I didn’t feel as that took away from my enjoyment of it at all.

The book does deal with rape, which I wasn’t expecting going into the novel, but Katrina Leno handles the topic extremely well. She even deals with victim-blaming, such as when victims are blamed for what they wear or do, rather than placing all of the blame on the rapist.

If you’re looking for the perfect atmospheric summer book to read, pick up Summer of Salt. You won’t be disappointed!


Have you read Summer of Salt? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.




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The Willow Woman by Laurence Westwood – A Review

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The Willow Woman: A Philip Ye Novel by Laurence Westwood
Mystery
Published by Shikra Press
Released January 7, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I received a free paperback of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

I tend to mostly read fantasy or science fiction, so I’ve been trying to make a conscious effort to branch out into other genres. When Laurence Westwood reached out to me and asked if I was interested in reviewing The Willow Woman, a mystery novel set in modern-day China and with a slight paranormal aspect, I jumped on the opportunity.

There are several characters that we follow as they try to unravel the mystery surrounding a shooting, a missing son, and a cult that worships the Willow Woman. Philip Ye is a homicide detective who is led to the sight of the shooting by an apparition that appears to him the night before. We also meet Ma Meili, the constable that does the shooting that Philip Ye witnesses; Xu Ya, a new public prosecutor, and her investigator, Fatty Deng.

I was hooked by this novel pretty early on. It’s a fairly long novel, but one that I flew through easily and was constantly kept guessing about what would happen next. I was thrilled that I wasn’t able to immediately guess the ending or twist of the novel like I have with many other mystery books I’ve read in the past.

Laurence Westwood’s writing is absolutely spectacular. Everything flowed nicely and it was paced perfectly, the language and word-choices kept me engaged, and the perspectives transitioned smoothly from one character to another. I’d recommend this book based on Westwood’s writing style alone.

There were some moments in the book where women are subjugated or that just felt sexist, but while reading it I discussed those moments with someone that has quite a bit more knowledge of Chinese culture than I do, and they told me that it’s not a far-off representation of some of the plights of women in modern-day China. Some examples include the “Beautification” program of the police to hire attractive women to make people like the police better; Ma Meili constantly being called an ogre or ugly or simply treated poorly because she’s not “attractive;” and the portrayal of women just generally being focused on men, relationships, and marriage more than anything else. After speaking to my friend, I’m assuming this was done to make the story more authentic to how women are treated in China.

The only reason I’m not giving this book five stars is that I was frustrated by Xu Ya’s obsession with Philip Ye. It didn’t make sense to me and their connection was too loose to intrigue me. They attended the same school many years ago and never spoke, and yet Xu Ya has seemingly been obsessed with him for years and years. While I understand that Philip Ye is supposed to be an incredibly attractive, rich, much sought-after bachelor, it still felt a little forced.

Overall, there’s so much to keep you interested in this novel, from the main mystery to the political intrigue that I definitely recommend to anyone wanting a new mystery novel to read, and a new author to explore. I’ll certainly be looking forward to any future novels written by Laurence Westwood.




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Perfectly Hidden Depression by Margaret Robinson Rutherford – A Review

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Perfectly Hidden Depression: How to Break Free from the Perfectionism that Masks Your Depression by Margaret Robinson Rutherford, PhD
Non-Fiction | Mental Health | Self-Help
Published by New Harbinger Publications
Expected Release Date: November 1, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars
ARC provided for free by Netgalley for review

I’ve written many times on Read Yourself Happy about my struggle with depression, anxiety, and my recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. As far back as middle school, I was suffering from depression and didn’t receive any mental health care until 2018, nearly fifteen years too late.

When I saw Dr. Margaret Robinson Rutherford’s book, Perfectly Hidden Depression, available for review on NetGalley, I instantly downloaded it. Part of my goal for Read Yourself Happy has always been to promote wellness, specifically where mental health is concerned.

In this new book, due to be released in November 2019, Rutherford talks about an obscure form of depression marked by completely hiding your symptoms and being a perfectionist. Whereas with normal depression, people will notice your lethargy or increasingly sad moods, people with Perfectly Hidden Depression (or PHD, as she calls it in the book) outwardly show no signs of being depressed.

For people who are perfectionists, how others perceive you is incredibly important, and showing your vulnerability is not an option. You might hide your symptoms so well that even the people closest to you might have no idea what you’re really going through.

The book is perfect for people who think they might be experiencing this sort of depression and want to do something about it. Each section of the book is followed by a journal prompt to help you reflect on yourself and your own habits. I like that with a book such as this one, you’re able to move at your own pace and spend plenty of time on the prompts and reflections. There are also real-life stories about Dr. Rutherford’s patients and how they learned to deal with PHD.

I do not have what Dr. Rutherford calls “Perfectly Hidden Depression;” my depression is of the more typical variety. However, if you recognize that your perfectionism is causing you to internalize your depression and you want a way out of that suffering, I highly recommend this book.




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Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

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Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi
Middle Grade | Fantasy
Published by Dutton
Released April 30, 2016
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

The first Tahereh Mafi book I read was A Very Large Expanse of Seawhich I rated 3.5 stars and really enjoyed. One of the things that struck me about that novel was how gorgeous Tahereh Mafi’s writing was, and that sentiment has only been strengthened by reading Furthermore.

Furthermore tells the story of a land full of color, and a young girl named Alice who is completely devoid of color. Alice’s father has been missing for several years, and no one has any idea where he disappeared to. Alice has younger, triplet brothers who she essentially has nothing to do with and a mentally absent mother who seems not to care about Alice. More than anything, Alice just wishes to have her father back and to be as colorful as the rest of the citizens of the land called Ferenwood.

When children in Ferenwood turn twelve, they participate in what’s called their Surrender. During this event, each child shows the town elders what kind of magical gift they have received, and then each of them receives a task to complete.

Alice’s Surrender doesn’t go quite as planned, so she agrees to help a boy named Oliver, whose task it was the previous year to find Alice’s father. Things are made difficult by the fact that Alice and Oliver definitely do not get along. As they venture into the land of Furthermore, things became stranger than Alice ever could have imagined.

Furthermore is beautifully written and very colorful, figuratively and literally. The story is full of whimsy and is exactly the sort of book I would have been obsessed with when I was of middle-grade age.

Alice is an immensely likable, sassy character, even if she is somewhat prone to violence, which I can’t condone. She’s an outcast and feels lonely, but at the same time her confidence in herself is a great message for children reading this book:

“Alice would choose to love herself, different and extraordinary, every day of the week.” 

At the same time though, Alice is vulnerable and learns quite a few lessons about friendship, honesty, trust, and embracing the unexpected throughout her journey.

“She’d decided long ago that life was a long journey. She would be strong and she would be weak, and both would be okay.” 

Oliver’s character I liked less, just because he wasn’t as well developed as Alice, and it was annoying how much he kept her in the dark, even when it was detrimental to both of them to do so. I did enjoy the friendship that gradually bloomed between them, but his character could have been better.

I’ve heard from some readers that they didn’t enjoy the speed at which the setting changes as Alice and Oliver travel through Furthermore. Essentially, each town or settlement in Furthermore has its own unique set of rules and dangers. Oliver knows some of what to expect because he’s been to Furthermore before, but he keeps Alice in the dark for the most part. The pair of them are constantly thrust into new, strange situations and communities, but I feel like it added to the whimsy of the overall story. The reader becomes just as flustered as the characters, which I enjoyed.

All of the characters of Ferenwood have magic, but the magic system is never actually explained beyond the fact that children are born with a unique magical gift. I read a lot of fantasy, so I tend to expect well-thought-out magical systems. Since this is a middle-grade book, I feel as though I should cut it some slack, but the lack of a well-explained magic system is the primary reason this book didn’t receive five stars.

I love this book for a variety of reasons, but above all else, for the novel’s main message:

“Why must you look like the rest of us? Why do you have to be the one to change? Change the way we see. Don’t change the way you are.”

Oh, and of course the origami fox. As you can tell from my blog design, I sort of like foxes.



Have you read Furthermore? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!




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A Shifting of Stars (Of Stars, #1) by Kathy Kimbray – A Review

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A Shifting of Stars (Of Stars, #1) by Kathy Kimbray
Fantasy | Young Adult
Self-Published
Released May 28, 2019
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars

I was fortunate enough to be sent a free e-ARC of A Shifting of Stars from the author, along with the opportunity to participate in her cover reveal.

A Shifting of Stars is the first book in a young adult fantasy trilogy. Our heroine in the story is Meadow Sircha, who watched her mother die from a wilting sickness as their emperor squandered the money of their kingdom instead of bringing life-saving medicine into their communities.

One night, Meadow takes a chance and shows up at the Gathering of Wordsmiths, an underground poetry/story community, and gets in front of the crowd to take a stand against the emperor and his famed gladiator fights. When she is finished, another member of the audience is inspired, and follows her onto the stage, sharing his own tale of misfortune at the hands of the empire.

Their cries for revolution are overheard by the emperor’s son, Prince Malthe, who happens to be traveling past. Meadow is arrested alongside the owner of the establishment where she spoke out, and they are taken to the city to be imprisoned.

From there, Meadow is rescued by members of the Emperor’s palace staff. Before she can get out of the castle, however, she discovers that Prince Malthe has a very dark secret. She also finds out, much to her horror, that her father has been arrested at Prince Malthe’s request.

As Meadow escapes the palace’s walls, she is aided by two boys that she recognizes from the Gathering of Wordsmiths – Vogel and Casper. They promise to help Meadow free her father, along with Meadow’s best friend, Anai. The journey is a long one, and they have to pass through the Sparselands, a forest that is generally avoided due to unknown dark magic.

I was hooked from the first chapter, as I love books that begin in desolate or dark settings. We first meet Meadow as she makes her way to the establishment where she wants to share her story, walking along streets where…

“…buildings cringe with moss. Walkways glisten with dirty puddles. Teetering balconies slouch from walls with garments strung between casements like cobwebs.”

Another aspect that is revealed about Meadow early on is that she has lost her mother, something that made me feel empathy towards her character. As I’ve written about before, my own Mother died nine years ago, and when I read about a character expressing the same feelings I’ve been dealing with all these years, it always serves to attach me to them.

“…I need to release my sorrow. To reclaim my spirit. To make things better. Since losing Mother, I’ve barely slept, never mind being able to rise with the sun. I’ve missed so many days at the market that my father has often picked up my slack, working longer than he should to bring in more coin.”

That last quote – I know that pain well. After my mother died, I missed days and days of work, I struggled to get out of bed, and it was like the whole world lost meaning to me for weeks.

I enjoyed the characters in the story, although Meadow’s love interest was predictable. While I could have done without that budding romance, the rest of the story was great.

I won’t be giving any spoilers away in this review, but I was absolutely not expecting the ending! I was shocked by it, but it was a twist that I haven’t encountered often, so it was refreshing. I can’t wait to read the next book in the trilogy!




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Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone – A Review

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Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Young Adult | Contemporary
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Released June 16, 2015
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_stars



Synopsis

Samantha McAllister looks just like the rest of the popular girls in her junior class. But hidden beneath the straightened hair and expertly applied makeup is a secret that her friends would never understand: Sam has Purely-Obsessional OCD and is consumed by a stream of dark thoughts and worries that she can’t turn off. 

Second-guessing every move, thought, and word makes daily life a struggle, and it doesn’t help that her lifelong friends will turn toxic at the first sign of a wrong outfit, wrong lunch, or wrong crush. Yet Sam knows she’d be truly crazy to leave the protection of the most popular girls in school. So when Sam meets Caroline, she has to keep her new friend with a refreshing sense of humor and no style a secret, right up there with Sam’s weekly visits to her psychiatrist.

Caroline introduces Sam to Poet’s Corner, a hidden room and a tight-knit group of misfits who have been ignored by the school at large. Sam is drawn to them immediately, especially a guitar-playing guy with a talent for verse, and starts to discover a whole new side of herself. Slowly, she begins to feel more “normal” than she ever has as part of the popular crowd . . . until she finds a new reason to question her sanity and all she holds dear.



Remember a while ago when I read and reviewed To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and I came to the conclusion that I might be too old for young adult contemporaries?

I take that back.

I adored Tamara Ireland Stone’s Every Last Word. 

The story centers around Samantha, a high school student who learns to embrace who she is, even if that means not conforming to the perceived ideal of her peers and friend-group.

This novel has great representation for OCD, anxiety, and mental illness, which is wonderful to see in a young adult novel. I particularly appreciated that Stone didn’t shy away from talking about medications in the book – for example, that it’s not always easy to find the perfect mix:

“I remember how I used to be before we found the right meds. I used to fixate on something – it could be anything – something one of my teachers said, or something one of the Eights said, or something I heard on the news. I knew the thoughts were irrational, but one thought led to another, and to another, and once the spiral started, I couldn’t control it.”

While there’s not as much stigma around mental illness as there used to be, it’s still not openly talked about enough, and the medications for managing it less so. One thing that this book does that not many others do is to show the hardships of having a mental illness because, let’s be honest, it’s not easy.

Every Last Word also deals with bullying. Samantha is at the top of her high school’s social structure, along with her other “plastic” friends. They definitely have a Mean Girls vibe going on. When Samantha encounters A.J., a boy who they ruthlessly bullied in elementary school, she’s horrified at what she did in the past. Part of her learning experience in this novel is trying to accept how terrible she was to people and apologize for her mistakes.

I loved Stone’s writing style and her approach to her characters and their situations. Nothing felt far-fetched or unrealistic. Yes, there were some parts that were a little cheesy, but you know what – high school is a little cheesy.

Lastly, while I’m not going to spoil anything, I did not expect the twist at the end!

If you’re looking for a great, hard-hitting young adult contemporary, give Every Last Word a chance.


Have you read Every Last Word? What did you think?




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The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas – A Review

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The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas
Science Fiction | Mystery
Published by Crooked Lane Books
Released August 9, 2018
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_5_stars

I didn’t know too much about this book before starting it. I saw it at my local library, and thought to myself, “Wow, that’s a cool cover. And I love time travel!” So, I promptly checked it out and brought it home.

I’m glad I brought it home, because WOW. This book and Kate Mascarenhas’s writing blew me away. I inhaled this book in just a couple of days because I was hooked.

The Psychology of Time Travel is a non-linear mystery story involving time travel. Four women worked together to create time travel in 1967. One of these women, Barbara, has a bit of a mental breakdown and is promptly given the boot out of the team.

Fifty years into the future, Barbara’s granddaughter, Ruby, finds a small, origami rabbit on her doorstep with a date in the near future. She becomes concerned that the date might be that of her grandmother’s death and sets out to uncover the truth about the Time Traveler’s Conclave.

We also meet Odette, who stumbles upon the scene of a gruesome murder and is trying to figure out the mystery of who was murdered and how.

This novel is complex and told in a non-linear format. We jump from past to future frequently, but I never felt lost or confused. The story is easy to follow.

The characters are wonderfully written with very distinct personalities and motives. One of the aspects of this novel that I enjoyed was that practically its entire cast is made up of female characters, with LGBTQ representations. It’s so rare, especially in science fiction, to find a novel that isn’t dominated by male characters.

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It’s very clear that the novel is written by someone with a degree in psychology, which Kate Mascarenhas has. The novel is focused on how people would deal with time travel and how it would influence our perspectives. The impact time travel would have on crime was particularly fascinating:  Would authorities be able to use time travel to catch the perpetrator, or would it still happen?  Questions like that are examined throughout the novel.

My favorite aspect of the novel was the examination of how Mascarenhas’s characters dealt with traveling into the past to see loved ones who had passed.

“When you’re a time traveler, the people you love die, and you carry on seeing them, so their death stops making a difference to you. The only death that will ever change things is your own.”

So much of time travel literature and media is limited by paradoxes and not running into your former selves, but that is not the case in the world Mascarenhas has created. In this novel, it’s normal to watch yourself die, hang out with your future or past selves, or even to have sex with yourself. Without the limitations of paradoxes, so many opportunities are opened up.

The novel also deals with difficult topics, but in a new light, such as mental illness, trauma, sexuality, love and loss, and death. All of these issues are touched on and examined through the lens of time travel.

This book has stuck with me as few others have. Usually, it’s simple for me to finish a book and go on to another, but this book left me with an intense book hangover. I kept coming back to the story over and over again in my head. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read before.

I sincerely hope that Kate Mascarenhas will write more novels in the future.


Sidenote: Kate Mascarenhas’s website contains some dioramas inspired by the book. Check them out here. There’s also a video of her talking about the book, which is fascinating.




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The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker – A Review

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The Simple Wild by K.A. Tucker
Romance | Contemporary | New Adult
Published by Atria Books
Released August 7, 2018
Goodreads | Amazon
Rating: 5_Star_Rating_System_4_and_a_half_stars


“He’s not like any other guy I’ve dated or crushed on. And while he’s capable of making my blood boil like no one else, I feel a magnetic pull toward him that I can’t explain.”.png

I’ve always prided myself on reading a very wide range of literary genres, from fantasy to contemporary to horror. However, there has always been one genre that I tended to avoid – romance.

Despite loving a good romance in a book, for some reason I’ve always been turned off by the idea of actual romance novels. I suppose I may have seen them as frivolous or too fluffy for my tastes. Regardless of my past feelings on the romance genre, however, K.A. Tucker has permanently changed my mind.

The Simple Wild initially intrigued me based solely on its setting of rural Alaska. I love wild, untamed natural areas, and recently I’ve been feeling incredibly nostalgic for my days of hiking and backpacking. I’ve been trying to experiment with books out of my comfort zone, so I figured if I’m ever going to give romance a try, a book set in the wilderness would be the right choice for me.

The story follows Calla, a twenty-something living in Toronto with her mother and step-father. She’s a fashion and lifestyle blogger and loves the glamor that city life provides. Everything changes, however, in what is possibly the worst day ever – she’s unexpectedly fired from her job, essentially gets attacked by raccoons, and then finds out that her estranged father, who she hasn’t spoken to in years, has lung cancer.

Calla makes the decision to fly to Alaska to finally meet her father. Their first encounters are awkward, but they slowly start to connect with one another. Calla also meets one of her father’s employees at the small airline he owns – Jonah, a rugged “Yeti” of a man who seems to be purposefully making her time in Alaska hellish.

There was so much I enjoyed about this book, and the rural Alaskan setting was just a very small part of it. K.A. Tucker’s characters are so authentic that I found myself engaged in every character’s story, even minor side characters. One of the reasons I don’t read much contemporary is that I struggle to like the characters, but that definitely wasn’t the case here.

I enjoyed the “hate-to-love” trope and the relationship between Calla and Jonah was playful, spiteful, steamy, and heartfelt all at once. The slow burn of their building affection toward one another was paced perfectly.

The novel had me bawling towards the end but by the time I finished the last page I was overwhelmed by the knowledge that everything in this book is perfect.

I will be reading many more of K.A. Tucker’s books, and I am no longer scared of romance novels. That said, if you guys have any recommendations for similar books that have wild settings and rugged, woodsy love interests, please let me know in the comments. I need more like this.


Have you read The Simple Wild? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!




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