A Few Quick Questions With…Brian VanDongen

This post is a team effort: the good people over at iREAD Book Tours provided the questions, Brian VanDongen provided the answers, I provided the . . . er, well, intro? I really want to read this book after reading this, hopefully you have the same reaction.

What made you write a book about play?
I feel that there is a “play deficit” in today’s society. For children, with the reduction of recess in schools in favor of more classroom time to focus on standardized testing and the increased “professionalization” of youth sports, free play is diminishing. As a recreation professional, I know the value that free play has on everyone’s life. I wrote this book to try to reframe the value of play and provide helpful stories and tips on how to live more playfully, and why living playfully will help people live a better life.
How did you get those stories about play for the book?
Fortunately, there are a lot of great organizations and initiatives for play across the country and around the globe. These organizations are very willing to share their stories and successes, because they want people to live more playfully, too!
Did you have a favorite story you came across during your research?
Wow, that’s a tough question. All the stories are great in their own right. I particularly enjoyed learning about an exhibit in the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, where children used real tools to build things. I’m sure you’re thinking, “real tools for kids!? Wouldn’t someone get hurt?” Well, yes, but it may not be who you think!
Seems dangerous.
As I note in the book, in two chapters, there’s a difference between risky play and dangerous play. But through risky play, children learn how to assess and manage risk, a key adult, real-world skill.
Do you have a favorite place to play?
Being in New Jersey, it’s easy to find places to play. We have mountain ranges with beautiful trails (including part of the Appalachian Trail) and gorgeous beaches. You’re not far from a place to play. Of course, the world can be your playground if you look hard enough!

Read the book in question, Play to Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play by Brian VanDongen.

My thanks to iREAD Book Tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.


BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Play To Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play by Brian VanDongen

Today I’m pleased to welcome the Book Spotlight Tour for Play to Liveby Brian VanDongen. I think this book good — especially for parents of kids who are about a decade younger than my youngest, but I can’t fit in to my schedule (at least not quickly enough to help out with the tour). Still, I thought it was potentially useful and wanted to help spread the word about it. So we’ve got this here spotlight and then a little later this morning a A Few Quick Questions with the author. But first, check out the information about the book and the givewway — or just go buy it. Either way…

Book Details:

Book Title: Play to Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play by Brian VanDongen
Publisher: BVDPlays
Category: Adult Non-Fiction
Release date: April 30, 2019
Format: Ebook/Paperback
Length: 119 pages
Content Rating: G

Book Blurb:

Play To Live: Life Skills and Joy Through The Natural Talent To Play by author Brian VanDongen takes you back to your childhood to remind you about what being a child is all about. Playing! We all have those fond childhood memories of growing up playing with our friends in social settings. Developing social skills and learning how to handle friendships and relationships.

What we didn’t realize at the time was that those skills we learned for the building blocks which lay the foundation for the rest of our lives. What are our children learning right now? How are they playing now and what part are we playing in how our children interact with the world around them.

For many children, their idea of play and playing now consists of talking to friends online and playing with electronic devices, staying safe indoors, and not venturing further than their own small safe world which we have created.

Inside Play To Live you’ll discover:

  • Understanding what it means to play.
  • Where play has gone and what has changed?
  • How playing inside the box promotes the simplicity of play.
  • Why risky play is not the same as dangerous play. Are we too overprotective?
  • That climbing up the slide is just as important as sliding down.
  • Getting muddy outside and rediscovering nature is imperative.
  • That play is serious business and so much more.

Inside Play To Live: Life Skills and Joy Through The Natural Talent To Play you’ll read about case studies and reports followed by tips, tricks, and information to help you. If you would like to rediscover what it means to play, then grab a copy of Play To Live right now!

Purchase Links for Play to Live:

Amazon ~ Apple Books
Add to Goodreads

About Brian VanDongen:

Brian VanDongen

Brian is a life-long “parks and rec kid.” Now, he is a parks and recreation professional.

Brian has created, designed, and implemented transformational recreational programming for thousands of residents. ​ Through his work as a park and recreation professional, Brian helps people play and find their natural talent to play.

He believes everyone has that talent, but it is sometimes hard to find, or even suppressed in today’s society. ​ Fortunately, play at its most basic level is easy, fun, healthy, and desirable. That playful talent just needs to be unleashed.

Brian has helped thousands of people find their natural talent to play and become happier and healthier people through the power of play.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook ~ Instagram


Win a signed copy of Play to Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play (1 winner / open to USA only)

(ends July 13, 2019)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


(if the Rafflecopter script isn’t working, just click here — it’s not as pretty, but it works)

My thanks to iREAD Book Tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Saturday Miscellany – 6/22/19

Runnin’ late — been running late all week, really. No time for an intro, really. Go directly to the links, do not pass go, do not collect $200. The odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford: — A mouthy and fun psychokinetic is on the run for her life — and her friends’, too. I had a blast with this one, as I said here.
  • FKA USA by Reed King — I’ve seen a ton of ads for this one, and the premise/tone intrigue me (go read the link, I’m not going to try to summarize in a sentence). Not sure, I’ll like it, but I’m quite curious.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and extend a warm welcome to Thomas Neil for following the blog this week.

How Not to Die by Michael Greger M.D. FACLM, Gene Stone: I Didn’t Want to Enjoy This Book . . .

How Not to DieHow Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease

by Michael Greger M.D. FACLM, Gene Stone

Unabridged Audiobook, 17 hrs., 9 min.
Macmillan Audio, 2015
Read: June 3 – 12, 2019

           Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.
                                        — Redd Foxx
           Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.
                                        — Mark Twain

I hate, really hate — and frequently resist — talking about books like this here. But I spent so much time listening to this book, I felt I had to. I do not possess the time, knowledge, or resources to really dig into this book and its claims. I’m only commenting as someone who listened to the material once — I’m not a medical expert by any means. I’m just a guy whose doctor recommended this book and who is taking classes/guidance from a couple of dieticians who think a lot like Dr. Gregor (but have disagreed with some of his conclusions), and is trying to learn from it. At the same time, I ran into those lines I quoted above in High School and I don’t know if I’ll ever forget them — they’re good to keep in the back of your mind with ideas like this — errors are costly, and death is inevitable — you can delay it, but it’s coming.

I’ve seen this book described as veganism without the ideology. That’s not a bad way to put it. I’ve seen someone else say it’s a tool to help them do vegetarianism/veganism better and to understand it more. That’s probably not bad. Gregor and Stone describe their approach as “evidence-based nutrition” (but it’s not like there are a lot of people out there arguing against evidence, are there?). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Following the introduction wherein Gregor gives his personal background into the idea of nutrition and medicine — initially from his family’s experience and then what he learned in med school and after. He then lays out his complaints against the US medical industry’s lack of education/emphasis on nutrition and its use in treatment/prevention of disease. I’m all in on that idea — if we are what we eat, most Americans are processed junk with only trace amounts of plant elements in our make up.

From there the book is essentially divided into two sections — the first focuses on the Top 15 Causes of Death in the U.S. The authors go through each of the 15 (Heart Disease, various Cancers, Mental Health, High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, and so on). The chapter will begin by looking at how the disease operates and how diet/exercise can play a role in worsening the condition and then how diet/exercise can aid in the treatment — or at least alleviate the symptoms — of each.

In Part 2, Gregor turns to answer the inevitable question, “Well, what do you eat?” He has developed a “Daily Dozen” approach — eating X amount of things like berries, nuts, beans, cruciferous vegetables, spices, etc. He explains the origins of this Daily Dozen (there’s a handy app version of this that I’ve been using for a couple of months to help track/guide my eating, by the way). And then looks at each — what health benefits can be gained from a whole foods, plant-based diet by category, and also specifics. For example, he’ll tell you all the ways that X amount of goji berries can help you, or the ways that Y amount of kale, quinoa, or apples will give you a boost — and so on.

It’s a lot to take in, and will certainly provoke thoughts. He’s quick to point out when researchers that disagree with his conclusions seem to cherry pick their results/findings/studies — and the biases of the researchers/funding. But they doesn’t do as thorough a job of demonstrating his counter-examples are free from that. It seems simplistic pretty often to take this approach without a large grain or two of salt (just kidding…that much sodium would incur the wrath of the authors). They do stress frequently the need to make some of these diet changes in consultation with your doctors, and not to just run off and do it — but it’d be pretty easy to disregard the warning and go off on your own guide-less.

As far as an audiobook goes . . . there are pluses and minuses. Greger himself reads the book — making it of a piece with his videos, etc. — and you can easily understand why he was in demand as a public speaker. He’s got great delivery and his personality shines through the reading. I may be the only one who hears it this way, but if you ask me — he delivers 98% of these lines (both the factual lines, and the little bit of snark or playfulness included) just as Wil Wheaton would. His voice has a Wheaton-esque quality, too. Which works for me — it wouldn’t for everyone, I know. The downside is that it’s just too much to take in via audio — there’s just so much thrown at you that you can’t get it all on a listen. The audiobook is a great way to introduce yourself to this book, but you’re going to need the hard copy for reference.

Gregor and Stone make some powerful arguments, and have convinced me of a lot — but I’m clinging to a bit of skepticism. But it’s a good starting point for re-evaluating your personal diet and priorities when it comes to food. How Not to Die is entertaining, informative and potentially life-altering. Hard to ask for more from a book.


4 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

How to Kill Friends and Implicate People by Jay Stringer: Girl Meets Boy on a Crime Spree

Two days in a row where I use denouement in a post. Odd streak. Pretty sure I can guarantee I won’t go for three, though. Sorry for the babbling that’s about to ensue.

No, I’m not really, it’s what happens when I get excited.

How To Kill Friends And Implicate PeopleHow To Kill Friends And Implicate People

by Jay Stringer
Series: Sam Ireland Mysteries, #2
Kindle Edition, 404 pg.
Thomas & Mercer, 2016
Read: May 30 – 31, 2019

I can’t pretend that everybody I’ve killed has been a bad egg. I can’t even say they all had it coming. But you want the real truth? We could all be said to have it coming. Write down the worst things you’ve ever done. Just the top ten. The silent little moments of guilt sitting at the back of your eyes in the bathroom mirror.

Did you break someone’s heart? Were you a bad husband or wife? Lousy mother or father? Was there a time you stole some money from the till at work? Maybe you just cheated on a test. We’ve all done things. One day, these things might come to the attention of the wrong person, and you get me knocking on your door.

Morals have to be flexible when you’re self-employed. Sometimes I can turn jobs down if I think they’re shady, but I’ve still got bills to pay.

This is coming a couple of weeks later than I intended to write it — mostly because I was trying to get my thoughts in order (yeah, also busy, tired, etc., etc. — but largely the getting my head wrapped around it bit). I didn’t know how it could live up to it’s predecessor and then knowing it, I had a hard time knowing how to compare the two; I couldn’t decide what was safe to talk about; I’m not sure what I can say about the ending; one of the events of this novel shocked me in ways authors almost never succeed at, and I’m still recovering (this is a good thing — but I still kind of hate Stringer for it). Frankly, I’m not sure I’ve decided any of these things, but I don’t want to not talk about this anymore.

One of the best parts of Ways to Die in Glasgow was the three first-person narrator structure, and I wondered how Stringer was going to approach this one, given that two of those narrators were unavailable. I was happy to see that he simply replaced them with another two — and relieved that it was as successful, if not more so, in these pages.

I couldn’t help thinking of the opening to Fletch (one of my favorite first chapters ever) as I got into this one. In Fletch, Alan Stanwyk hires Fletch to kill him — supposedly to prevent him from dying a painful death from a rare form of cancer. This job offer sends Fletch off on a great investigation that results in an ending Stanwyk couldn’t have predicted. Here, a businessman who makes Stanwyk look ethical, named Alex Pennan hires hitman Fergus Fletcher* to pretend to kill him. He’s done some very bad things, and some very, very bad people are going to want to do very, very, very bad things to him — the only escape is to die (but not really). Fergus knows this is a bad idea — but it’s such a bad idea that he’s interested.

* A connection I just now made — wow, I’m dense sometimes

Fergus is at something of a crossroads — he’s not sure that being a hitman is the right thing for him anymore. It’s not like he’s received “a swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever” or anything — but it’s similar. He’s lost the taste for it, he’s making sloppy mistakes. Maybe, just maybe, not killing someone would be a great way to get out of the business.

Alex and Fergus are our two new narrators — and they have very different takes on their deal, and how things unfold. This alone would be worth reading — but it gets better, because I haven’t talked about Sam Ireland — part-time PI, part-time bicycle messenger, and all around great character — our other narrator yet. Alex’s wife knows he’s up to something sketchy, and hires Sam to prove that he’s having an affair. Also, Sam and Fergus have recently met on a dating app (neither is incredibly up front about their careers for their own reasons). So you see — things are getting even more interesting.

Now, add in the very, very bad people that Alex wants to fool, the people that employed Fergus while he made some sloppy mistakes, some crooked cops, one very not-crooked cop, Alex’s wife, Fergus’ family, a footballer, a couple of shady politicians, a best-selling crime novel that keeps showing up everywhere, and a few other folks — and you’ve got yourself a Grade-A Kerfuffle of Epic Proportions. I really can’t say more than that — but I want to, it’s a great roller-coaster of a ride that you’ll enjoy while you hang on for dear life.

Alex is a great character — he’s thoroughly convinced that he’s smarter than he is — which doesn’t mean he’s not going to get away with his plan. He’s got big dreams and will do anything — anything — to achieve them. But, wow, he’s such a lousy person — you find yourself spending a lot of time hoping that Fergus messes up and actually kills him. Fergus, meanwhile, is objectively a reprehensible person — he’s a very successful hitman, after all — you should want him dead or rotting away in prison. But you won’t — you’ll be cheering him on, hoping he gets the chance to figure out his next career steps.

And Sam? If you’ve read, Ways to Die in Glasgow, you know all you know everything you need to about Sam.

I want to devote a post or two to Sam’s brother and his cockamamie thoughts and observations on comic books. But to do that, I’d end up ruining the reading experience, so I’ll keep my powder dry. But Phil made me rethink Jor-El’s efforts to save Kal-El and Krypton, and made me laugh audibly while doing so. His ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to his newsletter.

While I’d never pretend to be able to predict everything that happens in various books — to an extent, you kind of can after awhile. Right? Even when we say to each other “I never saw X coming” — in retrospect, you usually can see where X came from. The number of stunning, out of left field, I cannot believe Author Y did that moments are few and far between — maybe a dozen in the past five years. I know the only one that comes to mind in recent memory is John Mars’ Her Last Move which left me a reeling for days last November. Stringer did that to me here, I so strongly disbelieved what I’d read that I re-read a particular passage four times before moving on — only to come back a couple of pages later to try it a couple of more times. Surely it had to be what a pretty unreliable narrator perceived to have happened, not what really happened.

For those of you keeping score — this is the book that got me in a hopeful and cheery mood moments before Noelle Holten shattered it. But don’t infer from that an ending that doesn’t exist — this is one of the most complex denouements I can remember — following shortly after one of the more exciting climaxes I’ve read this year. I remember walking into another room to read the last 15 percent or so, because I could not — would not — tolerate any distractions. Not that my kids and dog were being more distracting than usual, but it was that kind of ending (and really, my dog’s half-pug, so simply breathing is frequently a distracting behavior…). It’s that kind of a read — you will laugh; you may find yourself rooting for the boy in his crime spree to get the girl; you will find your jaw hanging open (even is — especially if — you’re not the type of person to do that); you will (at the very least want to) cancel/rearrange plans to make time to read; you will wish your reading speed was a little faster so you can find out what happens when Sam tries to (ahem, well); you will find yourself writing/speaking in italics more than you’re accustomed to when discussing the novel. It’s just that kind of read.

I know Stringer has a non-Sam Ireland book coming out soon, but I sincerely hope that he’s not done with her. I’m not ready to be.


4 1/2 Stars

✔ Read a book with “how to” in the title.

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Paper Son by S.J. Rozan: Lydia and Bill in their most foreign setting yet — Mississippi

Paper SonPaper Son

by S. J. Rozan
Series: Lydia Chin & Bill Smith, #12eARC, 352 pg.
Pegasus Books, 2019

Read: June 12 – 17, 2019

One thing I’ve said (possibly too often) as I talk about this series is how much I enjoy the conversations between Lydia and Bill — but I think one of the conversations between Lydia and her mother tops anything the partners have to say (until the last conversation, anyway), and the rest weren’t far behind. We start off with Mrs. Chin telling Lydia that she has to go to Mississippi — and take Bill along — to investigate a murder. Long-time readers of this series will be forgiven the need to re-read that sentence, I assure you that it’s correct. One of Lydia’s cousins (yes, she has cousins in the Mississippi Delta — she’s as shocked as you are) is accused of murdering his father. Her mother wants Lydia to go down and prove his innocence. That he’s innocent isn’t ever in doubt for a moment — he’s related to Lydia’s father, ergo, he’s innocent. Lydia doesn’t accept her mother’s logic, but feels obligated to try to help this cousin she’s never heard of before now, so she and Bill set off for the Delta. It’s simply a dynamite first chapter, and the hook was set immediately.

Upon their arrival, Lydia and Bill find themselves neck deep in a tangled web of history, race, meth, gambling (both your more traditional varieties and purely 21st Century versions), politics and a even more race (it is Mississippi). Lydia’s cousin Jefferson is in his mid-20’s, a computer whiz of some sort with questionable ethics. He’s called to come to his father’s grocery store for some reason — they argue, and Jefferson leaves to cool off. When he returns, he finds his father bleeding out from a knife wound. Naturally, that’s when the police arrive, taking him into custody immediately. He’s bloody, standing over the victim and weapon — and sure, his fingerprints are all over the knife. Seems like an open and shut case, right?

Jefferson’s uncle, Captain Pete, is at the front of the line of those who doubt this — which is why he called his cousin’s widow to get her PI daughter down to help. Pete’s a professional gambler — precisely the kind of person Mrs. Chin wouldn’t like to acknowledge, but is friendly, hospitable and charming. Lydia and Bill warm to him quickly and he becomes a source of comfort as well as a source of information for the duo as they dive in to the investigation. Soon after arriving in Mississippi, they also meet another of Lydia’s cousins — a nephew to Pete, who is running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

Lydia can’t believe she’s related to a candidate for governor and she’s never heard of him. What else has her mother been keeping from her? Just from her conversations with Pete and Raymond Tam (the candidate), Lydia’s overwhelmed with family history that she didn’t expect to exist, much less be able to understand it all. It doesn’t derail the work that she and Bill are doing at all, but it threatens to distract her more than once. Adding the candidate into the mix guarantees that the water will get a lot muddier before it starts to become clear.

Lydia’s voice is as strong, engaging and entertaining as ever — possibly better than ever. I want to compare it to vintage Spenser, but that seems wrong (I’m not sure why I want to compare it to Parker at his best or why I shouldn’t — but that’s where I am). She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s insightful, she’s in a very alien place and is doing her best to acclimate. Bill seemed under utilized a little bit this time around — but (as he himself would point out), this was Lydia’s family, her case — he was just around for support. And he did come to her aid at pivotal moments — laying his native Southern accent on a little thick to help pave the way with some of the locals and to diffuse tense situations. Captain Pete is a great character, and I wish he wasn’t designed to be a one-and-done kind of guy, but I can’t see him coming up to Chinatown anytime soon to have tea with Mrs. Chin. Actually, I could easily read another novel or two with this cast — from the Public Defender staff to the people that hang out at the grocery store and all points in between. I’m not sure how Rozan could orchestrate those novels without feeling a bit contrived, but I’d be in for them.(*)

(*) Sure, I’d be in for Lydia and Bill Go Grocery Shopping or Bill and Lydia’s Day at the Recycling Center, but that’s beside the point..

I enjoy tea, but I’m no expert on it — I’m no where near the tea aficionado that Lydia is (even keeping Bill’s cupboards better stocked than he understands), but I loved her reaction to Sweet Tea (not just because I think she’s right). Using food is a great shortcut to revealing character traits, and Rozan does a great job throughout this book, but particularly on this point, of using that peculiar Southern version of tea to show us sides of Lydia.

Rozan’s at her strongest when in addition to the mystery, she’s using the circumstances around it to have Lydia and/or Bill explore another culture/sub-culture. She’s displayed this strength when helping her readers understand the Jewish refugees in the 1930’s who fled to Shanghai (The Shanghai Moon), Hong Kong (in Reflecting the Sky), Small Town High School Football (Winter and Night), the Contemporary Chinese Art scene (Ghost Hero), and so on. Here we get a Yankee perspective on Mississippi black/white relations (and a glance or two at how it differs from neighboring states), as well as a fascinating look at the Chinese in the Mississippi Delta in the late Nineteenth Century (which left me almost as shocked as Lydia). You give us that kind of history and commentary while delivering a solid mystery? It’s hard to ask for more.

As interesting as that is, the heart of the novel is in the idea of family. It’s a strong theme throughout the series, actually — whether it be Lydia’s strong sense of family, or the found family in the partnership of Bill and Lydia — or the many damaged families they encounter in their work. In Paper Son family shapes the warp and woof of the narrative — it’s Mrs. Chin’s confidence in the innocence of her husband’s relations, and Captain Pete’s call for help that brings the duo to the Delta. Lydia fights the impulse to believe Jefferson and Pete (and others) just because they’re family, yet wants thing to be the way her mother believes they are (even when — particularly when — the facts don’t seem to support it). Bill even encounters a fellow Smith, and while no one believes for a second they share anything beyond the name in common, there’s a connection. At it’s core, Paper Son is a story about the sacrifice, support, trust, and dysfunction that comes along from strong family (blood relation or found family) — not to mention all of the unintended consequences of that sacrifice, support, trust and dysfunction. I’m tempted to keep going, but I’d end up revealing too much.

The mystery itself is up to Rozan’s high standards — you may guess the identity of the killer fairly early on (and you may not), but you will not see the motivation coming until it’s past the point of inevitability. The ending feels a little rushed, but I can’t think of a way to improve upon it — and any rush was actually probably just me trying to discover how things would play out. The first half of the denouement with Lydia’s family is heartwarming — and, sure, borderline cheesy, but Rozan earned it. The second half is less cheesy and will fill even jaded readers with hope and joy. It’s just a great way to close the book.

If Paper Son isn’t S. J. Rozan and the series at their best, it’s hard to tell. For book 12 in a series to be this good almost defies the odds, the years that separated this book from it’s predecessor didn’t slow her down a bit (I honestly was afraid we’d be looking at something like Lehane’s return to Kenzie and Genarro in Moonlight Mile after 11 years). Long-time fans will be delighted in the return of this pair. I don’t know that this is the best introduction to the series, but it’d work just fine — you learn everything you need to know here. Fans of PI fiction starring smart, capable (and yes, mouthy) women will find a lot to reward them in these pages.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from W. W. Norton & Company via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.


4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Pub Day Repost: The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind by Jackson Ford: The Title Says Almost Everything You Need to Know About this Rollicking Adventure

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her MindThe Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind

by Jackson Ford
Series: Teagan Frost, #1

eARC, 496 pg.
Obit Books, 2019
Read: May 28 – 29, 2019

Not unlike James Alan Gardner’s All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault from 2017, the title, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind tells you all the important things about this book that you need to know before picking it up — although I think this book does a better job of following through with the tone of the title throughout the book. The voice, the attitude and the defining characteristic of the protagonist (at least as most people are concerned) is all right there. If the title turns you off, don’t bother buying/borrowing this novel, you’re going to hate the experience. The same goes for the first few pages — if you’re not amused and/or intrigued by Teagan’s personality and narration within the first chapter, just stop and go find something else. If you’re amused and/or intrigued? You’ll be in for a good time. If you’re amused and intrigued? Well, my friend, settle back and enjoy.

Teagan Frost is our titular girl, and she…well can move sh…aving cream with her mind. She has psychokinetic abilities (not telekinetic, she’s touchy about that distinction) — or pk, as she calls is. Teagan will slowly describe her abilities to us as she has opportunity — and eventually will spell out to someone where those abilities came from (surprisingly far from the beginning — which I appreciated). But for the initial plot all you need to know is what the title said.

She’s part of a pseudo-governmental espionage team that acts a lot like judge and jury without bothering with the formalities. No one, or almost none of her team wants to be on it, but the shadow-y figure that calls the shots is forcing them all to be part of it (including Teagan — don’t get the idea that she wants to be some pk wielding super-hero/secret agent — she wants to work in a kitchen somewhere until she’s good enough to start her own restaurant). The rest of the team have various skills that prove handy in their tasks, but she’s the only one has any kind of extra-ordinary abilities. Actually, as far as anyone knows, Teagan is the only person alive who can do what she does.

That is, until a dead body is discovered — and the victim could not have been killed by anyone but a psychokinetic. Naturally, there’s a tie to both Teagan’s teams recent activities and the location they were in the night before. The police are looking for them (not that they have an explanation for how the victim died, but they expect someone can), and some of the higher ups in the government want to take care of Teagan without worrying about due process (those who live by the sword and all) — and if that “take care” involves dissection or vivisection so they can figure out how her pk was given to her . . . well, who’s to complain? Teagan doesn’t have a lot of time to clear her name, but she’s going to try. As are most of her associates — if she does down for this, they will to.

Time prevents me from talking about all the things I want to, but that should be enough to whet the ol’ appetite. It’s a fun book and not one you need to know much about first. There’s a lot of action, plenty of snark, some violence, some banter, some mystery, some heartbreak. There’s a very Cas Russel/Peri Reed feel to this book and this world. But something that feels entirely fresh at the same time. I’m not sure that’s technically possible, but it seems it. So it can appeal both to fans of Cas and Peri, as well as those who didn’t care for them/don’t know who they are.

There’s a lot of depth to the characters, a lot more than you’d expect — which is one of the great parts about this book. As you learn more and more about what’s really going on around the murder victims the more you learn about Teagan and her team/found family (ditto for Teagan, actually). There are plots revolving around romance and friendship plots that are legitimately surprising — in a pleasant way, nice to see someone going the way Ford does, making the choices he makes for his characters. While I’m on the subject, it wasn’t just in characterizations/relationships that Ford surprised me — he did it throughout. Even when I was saying “Well of course, ____ was really doing ___, there’s no other explanation” to myself, that was a heartbeat after I said, “What??!?! No, that can’t be right!” I’m not saying I couldn’t see anything coming, but the ratio of surprises to telegraphed moves comes out in Ford’s favor.

There are a number of X-Men parallels, going on here — all of which would appeal to Teagan (some of which she mentions). Which is a nice touch. It’s probably also something that deserves more space than I’m giving it — I’m stopping myself, because I think I could go a long way down this particular rabbit hole. I’d love to ask Ford about it.

Now, there’s one character that I think Ford messed up — he’s part of a government clean-up crew that comes to take Teagan into custody. For some reason, he hates Teagan with some sadistic vengeance, and isn’t afraid to tell anyone that. It’s senseless and motionlessness (yeah, I know sometimes people hate others for no reason — I can accept that in real life, I can’t accept it in fiction. There has to be a reason). Which is strange, as little as we understand this jerk, we know the murderer and the individual prompting them to act. Technically, we know more about the killer than we do about Teagan for most of the book. Which just makes the clean-up guy even stranger.

I expect in future installments, we’ll get an explanation for the hatred and I’ll shut up. But not until then. Ford may be playing a long game here, but this is a short game world. Ford’s set up a lot for future installments, really (you won’t figure out just how much until the end — unless you’re smarter than me, then maybe you’ll see some of it coming) — but that doesn’t stop this from being a wholly satisfying experience.

So much of the time when I’ve been reading lately I get wrapped up in evaluating a book (for good or ill), wondering why an author did this or that, and what that might mean for the book as a whole, what that might say about the writer, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that — at all. But every now and then, it’s nice to stop the critical thinking and just enjoy a book. I’m not saying I did that wholly (and my lengthy notes can testify to that) — but in a real sense I did. I got lost in Teagan’s voice, the action, and wondering just how far the killer (and the individual pushing him to be one) would go, and who’d be lost in the process. I didn’t worry about what I was going to write, but about what Jackson Ford had written. I appreciate that.

I think this is one that could be better on a second (and then maybe on the third) read, once you can take your time and not race to find out what happened, or be dazzled by Teagan’s personality. If I’m wrong, and Ford’s just razzle dazzle — well, you’re left with a fun read with snappy prose and an more-entertaining-than-most protagonist/narrator. Either way, The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind is a book I recommend without a hint of hesitation (if you pass the simple tests from my first paragraph).

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Orbit Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.


4 Stars

✔ A book with a curse word in the title.