Harmony, USA by Lewis Bryan

“People who use the goodness in people, take advantage of their innocence to do their evil, become a target of mine eventually. I see myself as good, who doesn’t, but I do commit a brand of evil as some would see it. I don’t. Justice? I’ll let you decide.”

– Narrator in Harmony, USA

            We’ve all heard about the story of a secluded little town in the middle of nowhere. A village where everyone knows their neighbors and their dogs name. A town where everything runs smoothly and crime never appeared in any shape or form. Until one day, when the deep dark secrets are awaken. When they come stumbling into everyone’s lives, only to bring Hell to what was once a Paradise. Harmony, USA is a fiction mystery thriller written by first-time author Lewis Bryan. Although this novel has the above description as a foundation to its plot, Harmony, USA is a brilliant book that brings new heights to a story line we might have seen before. The tale focuses on the killer’s perspective in getting rid of the bad apples he sees in a harmonious small town called Harmony. It’s told in the killers perspective and, if you ask me, that’s where the book gets the most of its ingeniousness. As you read, you embark in a hunt for the person responsible behind the murder of a fellow resident, you uncover the secrets of Harmony and you tranquilly get acquainted with the killer and his motives.

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Daredevil: Devil at Bay vol.1 by Mark Waid

Vol .1 Devil at Bay : ★★★ 1/2 ☆

            Once again, I don’t own the trade paperback since I prefer collecting the comics issues. But for those of you who prefer reading it at once, I recommend you to go for the volume 1, which collects #0.5, #1, #1.5, #2, #3, #4 and #5.

            First, this series of Daredevil started in 2014, a title from the new campaign Marvel NOW! For those of you who don’t know, Marvel NOW is a project to reboot all ”the biggest names and greatest characters in comics”, you can find more information about it here. In short, Marvel NOW is to Marvel’s what the New 52 is to DC comics.

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Marvels by Kurt Masiek

(c) Bookidote

MARVELS: ★★★★☆

            I’ve always told people that I’m a huge Marvel fan only because I love X-Men. Since I was a child, I’ve been reading X-Men comics and watching the cartoon. But as I grew up, I realized that I knew nothing about other Marvel superheroes except the ones mentioned in X-Men. This is why I started to look around on where to begin Marvel comics. Comics are a large world. You can’t possibly read every single comic out there. That’s why to enjoy it, you have to inform yourself and get a basic knowledge on where to start. I searched about some Marvel essentials and a lot of people recommended Marvels.

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(c) Bookidote

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Ali’s Pretty Little Lies by Sara Shepard

Ali’s Pretty little lies :  ★★

The lie that started it all.”

– Sara shepard in ali’s pretty little lies 

                For all the Pretty Little Liars’ fans out there, this novel is a must-read .  I’ve been a big fan of the TV  Show since it’s beginning ( maybe not for the acting at the start of the series but for all the outfits teehee). Pretty Little Liars tell a story of a gang of girls : Hanna, Emily, Aria and Spencer and the Queen Bee : Alison. But as the year goes by, the clique fell apart with Alison’s mysterious disappearance. Ali’s Pretty Little Lies is a prequel and covers Alison’s life from the beginning and you will learn a lot about how she becomes the ”bitch” she is right now, what influences her to be that way, how she met the other girls  and THE  big twist  Ali’s darkest secret, that the TV show has decided to not include ( yet? I’m not really up to date on the Tv Show so I’m not sure ).

       I can’t say anymore than this because I believe that it would be spoilers for people who didn’t watch the show nor read the books . I didn’t read any PLL books other than this one, but I think that I should start one day or another because it’s always interesting to read about the original story and compare it with the edited one on screen 🙂

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The Liebster Award

Ladies and gentlemen,

               We are glad to present to you a brand new award. An award that was given to us to put us on a podium among new bloggers. We would like to give a big thank you to Ana Slanina for nominating us for the Liebster Award ! It is really a pleasure for us to have followers that appreciate our new blog. We will continue to thrive and put up more reviews for the world to see. We’re eternally grateful to all our followers, for their interactions and the continuous interest in our reviews. We hope to keep things going and have more folks join us in this virtual diary. A diary we love to share with the online peeps. A diary that’ll grow to be less personal and more communal.

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Fables (Volume 1) – Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham

“It took an invasion to unite us.”

– King Cole in Fables (Volume 1)

            Fables. Fables. Fables. You are the series that every fairytale fanatic was waiting for. Snow White? The Big Bad Wolf? Prince Charming? Beauty and the Beast? This comic series doesn’t fail in creating an exquisite world were fairytales clash with reality. Set in New York City, famous classic fairytale and folklore characters are forced to escape into a mundane world, our world. United by a war lead by The Adversary, their original stories are now history. Henceforth, they form a secret community that goes by the name of Fabletown. Fables (Volume 1), covering issues #1-5, focuses on a murder-mystery tale around Snow White’s sister, Red Rose. Discovering her apartment drowned in blood, Bigby Wolf (Big Bad Wolf who became Fabletown’s sheriff after turning over a new leaf) and Snow White (Director of Operations for Fabletown) try and uncover what really happened behind closed doors. Was Red Rose kidnapped? Killed? The task is in their hands to solve this case as the readers are plunged into a world filled with memorable characters.

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Our 5-Star Rating Guide

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Hello Space Monkeys,

                    We’ve come to realize the need of explanations regarding our rating system. This might come as a huge surprise, but the way we rate books is absolutely different from each other and also you folks. Every literature piece never escapes the eyes of critics. Even if writers might devote their lives to writing for the simple joy of leaving something behind and sharing their stories with the world, criticism will always be present. To help people like you and me to decide on our next read, to provide constructive feedback to help authors make better stories or to simply share their thoughts on their reading experience, reviews and ratings have their uses.

                  A lot people like to use a 5 star rating, especially big name websites like Amazon, Goodreads and so on. We wanted to abide by that system so that we can easily rate books on these platforms and to simplify your understanding of our love/hate for a book. Of course, there’s still the problem where each star might have a different value and that’s where this post comes in handy — of course it has a purpose, why else would we put it up for you guys. 😀

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Q&A with Jonanthan Lapoma

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We’ve had the opportunity to reach out to the author and realize a quick interview to get to know more behind the production of Developing Minds. We’d like to thank Jonathan Lapoma for taking his time to answer our questions and for giving us some of the most interesting responses ever. We’d also like to wish him the best of luck in his future projects and in his teaching career.

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1. Thank you for allowing us to feature this interview on our blog. To kick this off, tell us a little about yourself and your background. 

I’m an award-winning novelist, screenwriter, songwriter, and poet from Buffalo, NY. In 2005, I graduated from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a BA in history and a secondary teaching credential, and in the ten years since, I’ve taught in over fifteen American public schools as either a substitute or full-time teacher. I’ve been writing for about fourteen years, starting with poetry and songs, then novels and screenplays. I’ve written two novels, seven screenplays that have won over forty awards/honors in various screenwriting competitions, and hundreds songs and poems. My work often explores themes of alienation and misery as human constructions that can be overcome through self-understanding and the acceptance of suffering. I currently teach at a secondary school in San Diego, CA.

2. What got you to sit down and actually create something, to write a novel?

DEVELOPING MINDS is my second novel, so I had some experience with writing one. In 2009, I finished writing a novel based on my experiences living in Mexico for about five months after I graduated college. I was severely depressed and in a really bad place, but something about Mexico seeped inside me and made me chose life. When I finished writing the novel, I thought I’d said what I’d wanted to say about life and my experiences with it. But, in July of 2012, I took a road trip to Big Sur, and on the ride up the Pacific Coast Highway, I got to thinking about my experiences teaching at an at-risk middle school in Miami in 2007—and the personal, professional, and creative growths I had there—and realized the story wasn’t over. I started writing it almost immediately after I got back to San Diego, and finished the first draft in about a month. DEVELOPING MINDS is a sort of a loosely-linked sequel to the Mexican novel, UNDERSTANDING THE ALACRAN, and it shows the protagonist’s growth while trying to fit into society after returning from Mexico. My intention with DEVELOPING MINDS wasn’t to demonize teachers or the public school system—I simply wanted to show a portrait of these as true to my experiences with them as possible, while showing how these experiences affected the main character’s maturation and eventual transformation as a writer.

3. Developing Minds deals with so many different themes. Where did you get your inspiration to write about a new teacher, a new school? 

I am a teacher, so many of the situations in the novel were inspired by my own experiences, or those of other teachers I know. Being a new teacher is extremely difficult, and I experienced quite a range of emotions in that first year. There were some great “break through” moments where the students, or even I, learned something new or saw something from a different perspective. But there were significantly more terrible moments where I couldn’t imagine spending another minute as a teacher. I wanted to let readers experience this range of emotion through the events of the novel. Teaching is an extraordinarily difficult job, but many people still diminish the hard work of teachers and other school staff. I’m hoping that, by reading this novel, people will have more respect for teachers and the struggles they face on a daily basis.

4. Throughout the book, the main character seemed to evolve thanks to his entourage. Do you relate to the character? Was it your personal experience that make it possible? Developing minds is a title that might get you to think that it is associated to students only. I genuinely think its for the protagonist too. What I mean by that is that he is also developing his own mind towards maturity while teaching. This is just me thinking out loud. 😀 

Yes, I would say that I relate to the main character. The mid to late twenties is a trying time for a lot of friendships. People spend most of the first twenty-two to twenty-three years of their lives crammed inside of schools, where big groups of people study, and eat, and hang out, and play sports together. But once people graduate from college, they break away from this protective system, and many start to develop interests that are different from the groups they’d spent so much time with previously in school. During the mid to late twenties, many people struggle to find themselves emotionally, professionally, and creatively, and during this maturation process, it’s not unusual that people may make entirely new groups of friends. Some people refuse to grow, and may even get angry at those around them who start to develop new interests and friendships. I think this is understandable—watching the people around you grow when you yourself are too afraid to can be extremely scary. But at some point, everyone needs to take responsibility for their own lives. If you refuse to grow, you can’t blame other people for leaving you behind. We see Luke starting to grow like this throughout the novel. When he moves to Miami, he’s just as self-destructive as his friends, but as the school year progresses, and Luke begins to grow, he slowly starts to leave his friends behind. He’s on a journey to become a writer, and even though some of the people around him are just as, if not more, talented than he is, they aren’t able to fully realize this talent because they refuse to grow themselves. I’m glad you mentioned that you saw the association with the title and the main character’s journey. I absolutely did write this title to have a double meaning: on one hand, it means that the teachers are helping the students to grow and develop, but on the other hand, the title refers to the fact that the teachers themselves are still developing.

5. There is so much details about Miami, Cuban and Latin culture. Did you ever live there or is it just the result of many research ?

Yes, I did live in Miami for about a year, from the summer of 2007 to the summer of 2008, and before that I lived in Mexico for about five months. I’ve had a passion for Latin culture since taking my first Spanish class in 6th grade. Something about it seemed powerful and comforting to me, even at a young age. I moved to San Diego, in large part, because I wanted to live in a city with a strong Mexican influence. Suffice it to say, Donald Trump and I don’t have similar views on Mexicans.

6. What was the hardest part in writing this story?

I think the hardest part was packing in as many horrors of teaching without making the story too heavy and dark.

7. What do you think about our current education system?

I think it needs a lot of help, but the blame for the failures needs to go in the right places. Blaming teachers or citizens living in impoverished communities for these failures, however, is like blaming weight loss for causing stomach cancer and not the other way around. Blaming the symptom instead of the disease is not only foolish, but harmful. Education reform needs to start at a national level, and until we start blaming the income inequality gap, systemic racism, etc… for these problems, we’re going to continue to be plagued by them.

8. Since you’re a teacher right now, what books have you suggested your students to read and why ? 

I’ve recommended several books to students, but only when I know the students well enough to do so. I wouldn’t recommend a book that has protagonist suffering through drug addiction if I know this issue is close to the student and may affect them negatively. I’ve recommended the following books, mostly because they’ve helped me through difficult times and have helped me to gain a better perspective on the world: On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll, The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, Night by Elie Wiesel, among many others I can’t think of right now.

9. As you can see, back to school isn’t around the corner anymore. It’s starring right in our face ! What advice would you like to share with the students who are going to high school this year? 

I’d say, take this opportunity to try to improve yourself in one specific way. Maybe you want to try to develop better study habits, or social skills, or you want to learn a new language or musical instrument. It’s never too late to grow and develop new skills. At the start of every school year, I try to think of specific ways I can improve as a teacher. One year I decided to work on ways that I could communicate better with parents, and now, years later, that’s something I feel very comfortable with. I wouldn’t recommend trying to do too much, however. If you decide that you want to master ballet, the tuba, and French all in one year, those goals are likely unrealistic. But if you can set one specific, and achievable goal, you can probably learn that new skill. This will help build your confidence and soon, personal growth will be something that starts happening on its own.

10. What is success for you? 

An absence of fear. Fear is the blocker of creativity, and peace, and love, and so many other of the good things that make life worth living. I believe success is the freedom to try new things, to express yourself in new ways, and to master current skills, without fear there dragging you down. I don’t see “success” as something that can be quantified in any specific way. There’s no dollar amount that can determine it. It’s simply a feeling that stays with you and builds and radiates the more you allow it to. I already feel like a success. I’ve faced many of my biggest fears, and as a result, I feel closer to myself and the people and world around me. If I sell a hundred books or a million, I’ll feel equally successful either way.

Thank you again Mr. Lapoma for giving us the chance to share your thoughts behind this amazing novel

Best regards,

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Developing Minds : An American Ghost Story by Jonathan Lapoma

Developing Minds : ★★★★½☆

            First, let’s clear things up, this Stargaze Literary Prize Finalist is not a paranormal story. There’s no “physical” ghost involved. I should say that the ghost in the subtitle is a metaphor for all the things we cannot see, for what’s behind the curtains, hidden. The story is about Luke, and his new South Urban life as a new teacher at the George Washington middle school, an F school” average in Miami. This novel follows his journey through frustrations, stresses, friendships, relationships and all the challenges that a teacher can encounter.

Underneath the chaos and terror here was a humanity as powerful and pure as any I could find in any other place on this earth.”

Luke in Developing Minds

            I must say that I was quite impressed with the book. The humor was quite well-done, I found myself laughing out loud and kept on telling my boyfriend : “LOL Read this !” Hahah True Story there, you can even ask him 😉 . Furthermore, there are a lot of interesting facts here and there, and I think that’s one of the things I liked the most about this book. It taught me a lot. Not only about the education system, the steps that a new teacher has to go through but also some did-you-know facts about history, culture and so much more.

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Saga (Volume 1) by Brian K. Vaughan

“Doesn’t matter if it’s personal or professional, a good partnership takes work.” 

– Narrator in Saga (Volume 1)

            Who would’ve thought that science fiction and fantasy could give birth to such a beautiful piece. I have been reading countless number of comics for a couple of months but I’ve never really dove into something more galactic. I have to say that I’m really glad that I came across this comic series and got the chance to read the first issues of this beautiful and promising story. Saga (Volume 1) by Brian K. Vaughan collects issues #1 to 6 and vows to get you hooked till the end. This trade paperback introduces us to some major characters while giving us a good idea of the setting and the overall situation. It also gives us amazing and very entertaining background stories that never cease to intrigue you. Saga familiarizes us with two soldiers, Alana and Marko, from two different planets, Landfall (the biggest planet in their universe) and Wreath (an orbit to Landfall). These two planets have been in war for years yet these two fellows fall in love after escaping a prison where she worked and he was imprisoned. Giving birth to a child in the midst of this war, this trade paperback focuses on these protagonists running away from their pursuers (people from Landfall and Wreath) who have concluded that these two soldiers have betrayed them while learning on their own backstories and personalities. Narrated by the new born, Saga unfolds several episodes of this newly founded family that seek peace in a universe condemned to violence and war.

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