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The Music We Make

The Music We Make tells the story of Santiago DeAngelo, who discovers he is the sole survivor of a car crash where his mother died at the scene of the accident. When Santiago wakes in a hospital to this devasting news, he soon learns that his emotionally distant father blames him for the incident. Santiago struggles with grief and shame, which complicates his relationship with family and friends.

The author does a great job of portraying the complexities of grief and how loss can profoundly impact the people involved and those closest to them. As Santiago tries to cope with his grief, he instead unravels and goes down a path of self-destruction, looking for an escape. Only when the unexpected inspiration comes to him does he realize his new journey is to pursue a life creating music. As Santiago embraces his new life, he must first face his past, battling his fears and inner demons, before he can find success. This emotionally-resonant story is well written and touches on many aspects of how loss can impact a person’s life and decisions. Santiago feels inspired when he believes his mother sends him to write a song in her honor.

Author Michelle Rene DeBellis delivers a heartfelt story that is conversational and straightforward and dives into Santiago’s psyche so that the reader has a clear idea of his emotions and reasoning from one scene to the next. It’s a tale that carefully captures the dynamics of grief and how inspiration can prevail over the darkest moments in one’s life. I enjoyed this compelling story, but I would have it enjoyed it more if the author described Santiago’s challenges in greater detail. The overall story was narrated well and touched on many aspects of the character’s experience, including how he was able to make a significant turnaround in his life. I recommend The Music We Make as I feel this book is a great read and an excellent inspiration for anyone struggling with grief and loss.

Pages: 393 | ASIN: B0B6XJJXP1

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105 Steps

When Stephen Trigwell’s wife falls ill, the life his family has always known is forever changed. Their lives are consumed with doctor visits, hospital stays, medications, surgeries, and an overwhelming sense of fear. In March of 2021, Glen Trigwell was diagnosed with an aneurysm that required immediate surgery in order to set a stent in place. From that day forward, Stephen Trigwell made the decision to document the events that followed not only for his family but for his wife’s sake as the months that followed proved to be a time she may just lose. This memoir was written so she would know the love, care, and time that went into her experiences.

105 Steps is the true story and memoir of Glen Trigwell’s journey as documented by her husband, Stephen. Her shocking diagnosis in March of 2021 took their family down a frightening road. The aneurysm that changed their lives would pull them even closer together as they watched Glen fight to regain her life from this beast.

Stephen Trigwell’s writing is raw, open, and honest. He gives readers a deeply personal look into his family’s life as they cared for Glen from the beginning with her diagnosis through the moments from which they begin to believe she may never recover. Readers will feel each and every triumph and the devastating lows along with Stephen as he recounts each moment of her hospital stays and the harrowing days following her surgeries.

It’s difficult to say that I loved a story like this one because it’s true and painful, but I truly do. Trigwell has given readers an amazing gift with this account of his wife’s experience. I can see how his willingness to share his family’s pain and joy will help others living through the same type of challenges. His generosity is amazing and appreciated.

105 Steps, by Stephen Trigwell, is for anyone who wants to read a heartwarming and touching story about real unconditional love. The Trigwell family’s story is as inspiring as it is amazing and goes a long way to making so many feel less alone in such trying circumstances. I highly recommend Trigwell’s work to any reader looking for a beautifully-written true story of love, faith, and the determination to overcome the most incredible odds.

Pages: 222 | ASIN : B0B21XQFZ6

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The College Shrink

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Author William Haylon’s The College Shrink is a stunning piece of literary fiction. The story follows Emily Metcalf, an on-campus college psychologist, as she is navigating life post-divorce. We hear the stories of how she came to be who she is today, particularly how her former husband’s actions affected her. We also dive into the lives of her clients. It’s a true exploration of real-life issues through a beautifully artistic writing style. You will find yourself and others you know in the pages of The College Shrink.

This book starts off with a slow-burn writing style giving readers a chance to know Emily. The detailed and methodical style fits her personality and allows the reader to step into her shoes. Haylon’s writing provides a realistic sense of Emily’s mood and feeling toward her life.

The story-building further proves this when we find out what Emily’s former husband did. She is a woman mourning the life she thought she had and realizing that it wasn’t ever what it seemed. Her story shatters the middle-class American dream illusion. You can see the amount of thought Haylon put into this story strewn across the pages. He carefully chose each word and the sequence in which he told us the events. Everything has a purpose in this story.

I appreciated that the author shows that psychologists do not always have it all together. We often assume the people who are paid to handle the emotions of another human don’t have many of their own. That they are somehow immune from the problems that life often brings. But that couldn’t be further from the truth, and Haylon does an excellent job displaying that fact. Haylon also did well portraying the lives and issues of Emily’s college-aged clients. Writers above the age of twenty can often miss the mark when attempting to realistically portray people under a certain age. I’ve personally encountered young women like Jelly and have heard real-life stories of people in Mana’s situation.

The College Shrink is a beautifully written literary fiction novel with realistic characters that readers can identify with. Dealing with topics of romance, friendship, relationships, and family, there is something in this story for everyone.

Pages: 262

Coming Soon

I Played With Food For a Living

Ali Manning Author Interview

Can I Play With My Food? follows two sisters as they learn where Food comes from and how Food is used in science. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

The book began as a passion project and a way to reconnect to some of the artistic things I’ve loved to do since childhood. I also used to tell people I “played with food for a living,” so I thought the title was perfect because what better way to learn than through play. I was inspired to create a character loosely based on my sister Alexis, who has Down’s Syndrome because I wanted to create an inclusive book where children who aren’t typically represented in literature can see themselves.

The art in this book is fantastic. What was the art collaboration process like with illustrator Taylor Bou?

Taylor was able to bring my vision to life by creating relatable characters who represent individuals in all of our lives. The collaboration was effortless because he confidently believed in the messaging and what this book means for BIPOC children and those with special needs.

What were some ideas that were important for you to share in this book?

It’s essential for BIPOC children, especially those with special needs, to see themselves and see what’s possible. The book also provides information about food sources and exposes children to the concept of food science as a career path.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

Yes! I have a few other books in mind that feature more BIPOC children with Downs and share other elements of my life and career.

Date: TBD (I’m just basking in the moment of my first publication.)

Author Links: GoodReads | Amazon

Can I Play with my Food?

Can I Play with my Food? is a fantastic picture book about two sisters, Nema and Lexi. Together, they learn about where their food comes from, how you can use food in science, and how cooking and baking are also science. The girls are amazed to learn that food does not start out at the grocery store. They discuss growing food on farms and in gardens and what animals can also be food. At school, they learn that food can be used for more than just eating as they work on a science experiment.

Author Ali Manning has written a creative children’s book that explores where food comes from while encouraging imaginative thoughts. The character Lexi is based on the author’s own sister, that has Down Syndrome. Lexi shows some traits of Down Syndrome, and the author uses this to promote compassion and acceptance for those with a disability.

While the girls are making a lava lamp in science, they realize all the ingredients to do the experiment are things that they can find at home in the kitchen. Even when the experiment doesn’t go as planned, the girls are not discouraged. This experiment gets Lexi imagining that she too could become a scientist one day.

Taylor Bou illustrates this light-hearted children’s book with colorful and charismatic images. Nema and Lexi’s inquisitive personalities show through as they go about their day asking questions and trying new things. Their bubbly nature is fun and relatable to children.

Can I Play with my Food? is a touching picture book that young elementary and kindergarten children will be captivated by. The expressive illustrations will keep them engaged, while the superb narrative will give them lots to talk about. This is a great inclusive children’s book that teaches morals and science that teachers will love to use this in the classroom.

Pages: 40 | ASIN : B09NTX3JQD

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Daisha Gets the “I” in KIND

Daisha is asked to wait inside one day during recess and she doesn’t know why. The teacher Mrs. Perez then presents her with a four-foot-tall “I” from KIND. This award goes to a student that has shown many of the character traits of kindness. Daisha has helped students with the meal trays, returned lost money, and made sure to always include classmates in activities. When thinking about all the things she has done to earn the “I” she realizes her entire family shows kindness all the time.

Author Suzan Johnson has written a fantastic picture book with illustrations by Marcos Rodrigues. Daisha Gets the “I” in KIND is filled with many ideas on how to show kindness each and every day. This is an amazing book to introduce the concept of kindness to preschoolers and kindergarteners that might not understand what kindness is. Younger kids need a visual to understand the link between saying ‘be kind’ and showing them what kindness looks like.

This heartwarming story shows that children can learn kindness from those around them. Daisha’s whole family helps people in the neighborhood and community. So, helping her classmates at school just comes naturally to her, that is why she didn’t understand how she had won the award. It shows children that you don’t have to do big things to be kind, that even the little things you do matter.

At the end of this touching story the author includes some activities like a coloring page, discussion questions, and an Acrostic Poem template. These things will help teachers turn this story into a full lesson.

Daisha Gets the “I” in KIND is an exceptional children’s book that grasps the attention of young readers. The artwork in this picture book will delight kids and give them a visual of what kindness looks like at their age.

Pages: 32 | ASIN : B09JN4N3M2

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Competing Desires

Daniel Blake Smith Author Interview

Daniel Blake Smith Author Interview

Mr. Wonderful is a touching story that follows Brian, a college professor, in the throes of a life crisis like none he has ever faced. What was the initial idea behind this story and how did that transform as you were writing the novel?

Initial idea behind the story: MR. WONDERFUL began as a memoir. I was a college professor and my father has recently passed with advanced dementia. I don’t have a ‘loopy son’ as in the book but I do have a son about that age and know many other millennials who behave a bit like Danny in the novel. But as I got into the writing of my memoir, I realized I wanted and needed the freedom to invent–a lot. A fictional story came into view about a professor’s world sort of closing in all around him and I decided to let my memoir morph into a novel and let it take me–and readers–into some unexpected but hopefully moving and memorable places.

What I liked about Brian was that his character was layered and his emotions were relateable. What were the driving ideals behind his characters development throughout the story?

Brian, like me, is flawed but, hopefully, someone readers would root for. So I focused on telling a story in which Brian’s world is full of conflict; in sorting out competing desires (he loves his son but realizes he needs some tough love, etc.) we often learn the most revealing things about ourselves. Good, rich, layered characters need inner problems–as well as outer conflicts–to resolve and overcome and that’s what I worked to create for Brian (and for Danny, for that matter). The driving ideal or goal for the characters, especially Brian, was how do I succeed as a respectable man in the world? How do I make the most of my time in this world? Can I/will I live a life as admirable and eventful as Brian’s father, ‘Doc’ Fenton?

I felt like all the characters in the novel were well thought out and developed. What were the morals you were trying to capture while creating your characters?

I’m not sure I was intent on capturing any particular set of ‘morals’ with these characters except perhaps to showcase them working to figure out how they can learn to care as much about others (at least in their family) as they do about themselves.

What is the next story that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’ve recently begun a bit of a sequel to MR. WONDERFUL, focusing on the ‘next generation’ of the Fentons story: that of Danny and Dawn out on the road trying to reinvent themselves as ‘respectable’ people while still living the free-wheeling lifestyle that is so central to their identities. Probably won’t be done until early 2019. I’m also working on finding financing for my next major feature film, BLOOD BORN, about a young man who’s world is turned upside down when he discovers that his blood can cure cancer. My first feature film, TEXAS HEART, starring John Savage (THE DEER HUNTER) and Lin Shaye (INSIDIOUS), is now available on Amazon Prime and on DVD. Very proud of that film.

Author Links: WebsiteFacebook | TwitterGoodReads

Mr. Wonderful by [Smith, Daniel]

In spite of the world’s struggle and sorrow, life sometimes shows us the wonderful.

Brian Fenton’s life is falling apart. A professor at a bankrupt “directional school,” Brian suddenly learns he must either take early retirement or double his workload. As he confronts the embarrassment of his job going south, Brian discovers that his loopy son, Danny, is paying a surprise visit—which can only mean a hand out for money and a need to crash. To top it all off, Brian is fielding frantic calls about his aging father who’s declining rapidly with dementia.

Once a family doctor in Juniper, the small Texas town where Brian was raised, “Doc Fenton” is going down fast—forcefully reminding Brian of his own mortality and the painful issues separating him from his domineering father—a man only his loving wife could call “Mr. Wonderful.”

When Brian’s father passes, the gathered Fenton family partakes in a volatile small-town Texas funeral—at once hilarious and poignant—which produces startling revelations about Doc Fenton that propel Brian and the whole family into a new direction, a new path forward.

In the engaging vein of Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth and Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, Daniel Blake Smith’s debut novel is at once a comic and heart-wrenching family saga. It offers a piercingly honest window into how we struggle to make sense of ourselves, our families, and our life purpose. If we’re lucky, we discover Mr. Wonderful.

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Mr. Wonderful

Mr. Wonderful by [Smith, Daniel]

Mr. Wonderful, by Daniel Blake Smith, is the touching tale of Brian Fenton, a college professor in the throes of a crisis like none he has ever faced. Brian and his wife, Corinne, are parents to a thirty-year-old son, Danny. The two adopted Danny as an infant at Brian’s insistence. From the beginning of Danny’s life with the Fentons, Corinne struggles to find her motherly instincts and is, for lack of a better word, relieved when Danny becomes a self-sufficient adult and leaves them as empty nesters. Danny’s return to their home turns Corinne and Brian’s lives upside down as Brian, in turn, deals with his elderly father’s declining health and the increasing pressures of a career he, may or may not, still love.

Smith weaves an intricate story of love lost between parents and children. The first person narrative is highly effective at drawing the reader into Brian’s sorrow, frustration, and his panic at being the voice of reason both at home between Corinne and Danny and long distance as he goes head-to-head with his brother, Jeff, over his father’s care. It is hard to watch Brian ponder the differences between his memories of his father’s treatment of him and his brother and the way in which his stepmother, Claire, speaks so lovingly of Robert, his father, as she cares for him. His emotions are raw, real, and easily relatable.

Corinne–not my favorite character. Her coldness toward Danny and her disdain at having to see him again in her home is as amazing as it is heartbreaking. Danny, not the best behaved boy on the block, is not welcomed by Corinne, and the blame she throws at Brian is somewhat misplaced and a struggle to witness. I found myself wanting her turnaround to come–and to come soon. Smith has written a memorable, if infuriating, character in Corinne.

Brian’s relationship and subsequent discoveries about his father’s past are poignant. Robert, ailing and entering the stages of dementia, is also hard to like. The manner in which Brian describes his past with his father left me wanting desperately to not feel sorry for Robert. Here, again, Smith crafts a turn of events that left this reader feeling a sense of compassion she did not see coming–but appreciated in the end.

I have to admit I saw Brian as weak. I didn’t want to, but I found myself wanting to shake him and jerk him upright from the downhill slide he was surely taking as the days passed him by. By the story’s climax, in Brian’s hometown of Juniper, Texas, I was more than ready for Brian, and Corinne, to show growth. Smith creates the perfect opportunity for self-awareness and life-changing decisions with his choice to bring his characters together in Juniper.

I have to give Mr. Wonderful an emphatic 5 stars out of 5. Smith’s use of the alternating first person points of view creates a deep connection between readers and characters. The Fenton family and their trials are not to be missed.

Pages: 164 | ASIN: B077Z3WK9N

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