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Book Review Blog

  • Writer's pictureSeema M. Fazil

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Title: Everything That Makes Us Feel

Author: Chuck Murphree

Release Date: July 28, 2020

Publisher: TEN16 Press

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository

Add it on Goodreads

Rating: ★★★★☆

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Fifteen-year-old Neil lost his brother to suicide one year ago, and in the process, he lost his voice. Now, with his parents drifting apart and another first day at a new school, his life feels like it's spiraling out of control. That is, until Neil meets a high school counselor who gets him involved in the Polar Bear Club, where he connects with a group of classmates he can finally relate to. As their friendship grows, so do their adventures. Life throws out many challenges, and death forces us to ask "why" far too many times. In Everything That Makes Us Feel, Neil tries to navigate a world in search of the answers to those questions.


My Review:

"Life can be complicated. It's full of everything that makes us feel. Good, bad, and everything in between. It's what makes life interesting. It's also what makes life hard, but we can survive it together."

Where do I begin with reviewing this beautiful novel? I have so much to say about it, I don't know where the heck to start! :')

Chuck Murphree's Everything That Makes Us Feel is a powerful novel about dealing with mental illness, as it explores sensitive subjects.

As someone who's passionate about the subject of mental health and raising awareness, I've been following Mr. Murphree on social media for awhile, before finally having the chance to pick up his novel, Everything That Makes Us Feel, after hearing great things about it and procrastinating on it for awhile.

Everything That Makes Us Feel follows Neil, a teen who deals with a tragedy that hit his family one year ago, and who lost his voice in the process. Murphree shows us how one traumatic event can affect a family, as Neil's parents drift apart and his depression only increases as a result.

As I read, questions posed in my head as I wondered why Neil was feeling guilty about David's death and why he felt like it was his fault. Posing questions in a reader's head is one of the most important aspects in writing to keep a reader hooked. I give Murphree that!

As someone who goes through anxiety sometimes, there were some things I found myself relating to Neil about. Such as, wanting to fit in and having the fear of losing the people I love in my life.

The part where Neil was admitted to the psychiatric ward gave me a little of Neal Shusterman's Challenger Deep vibes. 😉

I've enjoyed watching Neil grow throughout the novel as he joins the Polar Bear Club, which is run by the high school counsellor, Mr. C, and makes new friends whom he connects with and relates to, as he slowly finds his voice. I also admired his determination to get better and start speaking again.

I liked Mr. C right away. I instantly saw him as someone who you could talk to about anything. I agree with one of the reviewers on Amazon saying that he is a "father, mother, sibling, and friend all wrapped up in one warm good-hearted man". He is such an amazing counsellor who is genuinely passionate about helping students.

Another character I really loved was Travis, one of the members of the Polar Bear Club. He is a true friend who accepted Neil and saw him for who he was. He is definitely someone who you'd be comfortable with right away, and would wish to have as a best friend.

As someone who's obsessed with brothers, bromance, and guy friendships, I really adored the beautiful friendship between Neil and Travis, and it melted my heart when they started counting each other as brothers. I wanted more. 🥺

Speaking of that, besides searching for books about close brothers, I swear I was also on the lookout for books with a particular character dynamic between guys where an older guy and younger guy bond, and the older guy treats the younger guy like a little brother. Everything That Makes Us Feel did have a little of that between Neil and Travis. 😭

I was also impressed with how Murphree normalized affections between men and their emotions.

Before he got into the car, Travis hugged me, which I didn't find strange. I think I needed it. It wasn't a typical "man hug" with a slap on the back. He really held me tight.

I loved all the other members of the Polar Bear Club, but in their own unique ways. I loved Devo, as I found his addiction to '80s music kind of amusing. 😜

I loved Lux for her caring attitude. Mel... I liked her a little. And H, I found him kinda cool even though he did make me feel a little uncomfortable in the beginning.

Besides the Polar Bear Club, I also loved Neil's amazing grandfather. A cool grandpa and a wise man, who you'd want to tell anything to.

While I basically loved all the characters in Everything That Makes Us Feel, one character I strongly disliked was Neil's father. He stigmatized mental health by referring to the psychiatric ward as a "nuthouse". Good for Neil speaking up for them!

In one part, I was really impressed with how Murphree showed the bad effects of drinking without being preachy about it. He showed us that drinking is never the answer for depression.

I loved how Everything That Makes Us Feel was realistically depicted, and all the wise words about life. Sure, it may have been kinda sad, but it was the reality. For instance, the novel shows us that life is not perfect all the time and that we all experience the good and bad in our lives. One that hit me the most was the fact that nothing stays the same in life; things change and people come and go in our lives.

Murphree also shows us that some people aren't always what they seem. For instance, even a confident girl like Mel, who doesn't seem to care about anything, has her own struggles.

The last part of the book was intriguing as I anxiously wondered what happened to Lux and whether she was okay. 👀

Finally, as I was reading the book, I thought of a 4.5 or 5 stars, but there were some things I felt were unnecessary and made me feel uncomfortable that made me knock out a star. Also, there was one thing about experiencing life that I strongly disagreed with.

Overall, I mostly loved Everything That Makes Us Feel and found it to be such a beautiful novel. I would definitely recommend it to those suffering from mental illness as it strongly destigmatizes the subject and gives the reader hope. I would also recommend it to those who don't suffer from mental illness as well, as it would educate them about the important subject.

Everything That Makes Us Feel encourages us to move forward in life despite the hard times we go through. It's a novel that made me think, and I was kinda sad after I finished it. I already miss the amazing characters. 😭

What has always made a book successful for me is feeling attached to characters and rooting for them.

A tiny part of me wishes for a sequel, even though I know it's very much unlikely as I can see Everything That Makes Us Feel already perfect as a standalone.

Thank you for writing this important book, Mr. Murphree.

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  • Writer's pictureSeema M. Fazil

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

Title: Burned

Series: Hardy Boys Undercover Brothers

Author: Franklin W. Dixon (Pen name)

Release Date: October 1, 2005

Publisher: Aladdin

Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository

Add it on Goodreads

Rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis from Amazon:

To smoke out the mastermind behind and learn the structure of an illegal international CD-burning operation that employs teenagers.

Local and global. Start close to home.

Misicians. Record companies. Unsuspecting customers who are unaware that they are participating in illegal activity.

Start with Julian sanders, your classmate. Work from there.



My Review:

Okay, so I'm not usually the queen of rereads as I'm usually someone who gets nervous when it comes to rereading a favorite book. Afraid I wouldn't love it as much as before. Afraid my feelings for it wouldn't be the same as the first time. After all, rereading a favorite book is usually never the same as the first time, right?

Well, but more than anything, I was so glad and relieved that that wasn't the case with the Hardy Boys UB #6 Burned.

After procrastinating for a long time on rereading a favorite Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew book, I'm so glad to finally have the courage to pick up one of my favorite Hardy Boys book, UB #6 Burned.

This installment of the Hardy Boys UB series follows the Hardy brothers as they investigate the person behind the illegal international CD-burning operation.

I enjoyed the interaction between the Hardy family near the beginning of the book, and as usual, I loved the brother teamwork between Frank and Joe and their determination to do justice against evil, as well as the brotherly love and banters added between them, which obviously reminded me of why I got into the Hardy Boys in the first place.

This Hardy Boys mystery was intriguing as I couldn't wait to discover the identity of the mysterious C.D. Burns (it's been awhile since I've last read the book after all, so I kinda forgot who the culprit was 😉), and anxious for the Hardys to catch him.

One of my favorite parts was when the Hardy brothers were chasing that Mr. Ski Cap guy at the mall, and how Frank managed to kick butt (according to Joe), despite his injured foot. Great brother teamwork! I was so proud of him for that! Definitely the Hardys I know and love!

Finally, as I was reading that Hardy Boys book, I was feeling kinda nostalgic as I remembered my early bookworm days, and now all of a sudden, I have that burning urge to dig out all my other favorite Hardy Boys (and Nancy Drew) books, and start rereading. The joy of rereading a favorite!

Reading Burned, I also learned a lot about how illegal it is to burn CDs; shame for my ignorance back then! 🤭 Honestly, it kinda reminded me of my days in sixth grade when I attempted to burn CDs for my siblings. 🙈

Overall, I would recommend Burned to all the Hardy Boys and mystery fans out there.

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  • Writer's pictureSeema M. Fazil

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Title: Sweet Cold of Winter

Series: Ashkettle Boys

Author: A.M. Goetz

Published: February 22, 2019

Purchase: Amazon

Add it on Goodreads

Rating: ★★★★☆

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Small towns hide big secrets.

When tourists discover the body of seasoned hiker James Fremont at the bottom of Scarface Mountain Trail, Sheriff Jacob Knight immediately suspects foul play. Fremont died with an engagement ring in his pocket and enough supplies to last two people for several days, yet there's no evidence of a woman at his abandoned campsite.

Worse -- Fremont's girlfriend, local cougar Denise Langerkamp -- won't admit they were ever a couple.

Denise has already moved on, her next target a scarred young man named Dack Ashkettle.

From the moment he first meets her, Dack is certain he loves Denise, but he's about to find out -- sometimes, loving the wrong woman can be murder.

Get your copy of Sweet Cold of Winter today.


My Review:

I'm so glad to finally get my hands on the last installment of the Ashkettle Boys series, Sweet Cold of Winter, on my kindle.

I've been looking forward to it ever since I finished Shaw's Obsession, and picked it up as soon as I finished a semester from my program.

For some reason, there is just something about wintery covers that intrigues me to a book, so it was a big bonus for me to see a wintery cover on an Ashkettle Boys book.

The last installment of the Ashkettle Boys series, Sweet Cold of Winter, was a book that intrigued me from beginning to end, as it followed the youngest Ashkettle still opening his eyes to the world and his experience with falling in love with the wrong woman...

Like Shaw's Obsession, Sweet Cold of Winter was a book that took me through a rollercoaster of emotions. I felt happy, angry, frustrated, excited, and almost cried...

I got hooked right from the first page as it opens with some tension between a couple at a campground. Between a man named James Fremont and the snake, Denise Langerkamp, and how she ended up murdering him by pushing him off the cliff...

While the sheriff, Jacob Knight, tries to solve the murder of James Fremont, whose body was found at the bottom of Scarface Mountain Trail, the youngest Ashkettle, Dack, is still in a coma back at their old hometown...

As usual, I loved the Ashkettle Boys' love and loyalty towards each other. I loved how Sonny and Bo were unwilling to give up on their younger brother; definitely the Ashkettles I know! I also loved the humor and banters between them throughout the book.

One of my favorites that kind of made me crack up:

(Between Dack and Bo, after Dack woke up from his coma)

"I know. It's cool, man. You go ahead and cry if you need to. Doc said it'd take you a while to start feeling like yourself again."
"Feel like... a... big... baby."
"Yeah? Well I'm off diaper-duty, dude. So don't get no ideas."

That was a great humor that lights a reader up after a serious situation.

Despite feeling happy and relieved that Dack survived his coma, I was feeling uneasy as, from my experience reading the Ashkettle Boys, whenever a trouble is resolved, a new trouble always comes up for them. They are boys who seem to always be targeted!

In Sweet Cold of Winter, that new trouble was Denise Langerkamp, as she approaches the youngest Ashkettle and starts taking advantage of the scarred young man, who's been through a lot.

As Dack falls in love with Denise the more he spent time with her, throughout most of the book, I've been wanting to reach into the pages and slap sense out of him to let him know that he's about to throw himself into another danger, and anxious for him to wake up soon! Sweet Cold of Winter has been one of those books, where you, as the reader, know something the character doesn't and you feel like slapping sense out of them, which, obviously, felt frustrating.

Throughout most of the book, I've also been cheering Bo, who was totally alert on who Denise really was and many times, tried to warn his younger brother against her.

More than anything, I've really been disgusted by this dirty woman and hoped with all my heart that she would get what she deserved.

Will Dack ever open his eyes and see who Denise really is? You'll have to read it to find out!

Finally, as soon as I finished reading it, I've instantly debated on a four or five stars, and finally decided on a four after much thinking.

While I really loved and enjoyed Sweet Cold of Winter, there were some minor issues I had with it. For instance, there were times when I felt like Dack, my favourite Ashkettle since the first book, was acting like a spoiled brat, which I felt was a bit out of character from him.

Also, again, like in Shaw's Obsession, Spoiler! we never got to know whether Merle was actually Dack's father or not. End Spoiler! I was expecting to find out in this book after the idea was left unconfirmed in Shaw's Obsession, but it was never mentioned again as though the idea never existed.

And about the ending - Spoiler! Wasn't Denise already supposed to be dead while Sonny was unconscious? End Spoiler!

Overall, the last book of the Ashkettle Boys series, Sweet Cold of Winter, was a great, intriguing read that teaches us something very important.

Be careful who you trust.

I will miss the Ashkettle Boys so much. 😭

Will eventually reread the series sometime in the near future though. :')

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