Book Review #90: “Soulflow” (Audiobook)

Kristen Martin is amazing!

This book went on my Amazon wishlist within hours of her announcing its release date on her podcast, That Smart Hustle.

Then, in March 2020, Kristen made an amazing decision. In part due to the stresses of the coronavirus pandemic, she recorded every chapter of Soulflow, and released one per day from March 20 through April 5. At first, I wasn’t sure if listening to the book would work for me. It’s been YEARS since I’d listened to a book. Think back to books on tape and books on CD from the library. Yeah, that long ago.

But, I dove in. And I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it. I got a late start in listening to it, so all the chapters had been released by the time I started the Introduction in early May. I found myself listening to multiple chapters per day while working from home. I love Kristen’s voice!

Between May and August, I’ve listened to the entire book twice. I plan to listen to it a third time before the end of 2020.

I know, personal development books get a lot of flack. Trust me, I’ve read a lot of them over the years. But, I feel like Kristen’s book is different. It is personal development, but it also has a lot of her memories and experiences. To me, it’s relatable. This may be in part because she and I are virtually the same age, but I keep coming back to it.

I love Kristen’s energy through this book. I was planning to read some of her fiction work first, but I’m glad I listened to this one first. I’m even more excited now to read her fiction. If her second personal development book is this inspiring and influential to me, I can only imagine what worlds she’s created with her fiction.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #89: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity”

When I did a recent Tag post, I picked this book as “An intimidating book on your TBR.”

I wrote: “The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity by Axton Betz-Hamilton. I know the backstory behind this book, Betz-Hamilton’s memoir, from the Criminal podcast. (Make sure you listen to Episode 51 first, then Episode 125). I want it to be as amazing as I think it is, based on the podcast episodes that were so masterfully produced.”


As soon as I heard about Betz-Hamilton’s book on Episode 125 of the Criminal podcast, I added it to my wish list. I was so thrilled when I opened it as part of my Christmas gift from Al at the end of 2019.

It took me nearly six months to get to it, but I knew I was avoiding it. I had so many high hopes for this book, and I did not want to be disappointed.

Thankfully, this was not disappointing.


It’s hard to talk about this book without giving away certain things. But, I will say that I hope Betz-Hamilton writes more books. She did an incredible job with this. It’s such a personal story, and she truly turned it into action. She has done incredible work with helping identity theft victims for many years, while simultaneously trying to solve the mystery of identity theft in her own family.

If you’ve wanted to learn about identity theft, and its interesting history, this is a great book to read. Betz-Hamilton started her investigation with hardly any resources, and little law enforcement involvement. Times have certainly changed, and she helped educate many people along the way. Without her work, I don’t think identity theft would be as widely known or investigated now.

I related to this book in a few ways. Axton and I were both only children. I struggled with my relationship with my mom, especially as I became a teenager. But, I realize how good I had it. Axton lived in a version of hell under her mother’s roof until she went to college. I recognized so many signs of abuse, sadly.


The chapters were the perfect length. I flew through multiple chapters every night, and struggled with putting the book down.

It was so interesting to read about her life. This book spanned from before she was born up through the early 2010s. I really enjoyed the personal anecdotes, mixed in with academia and identity theft history. I’ve found myself searching for presentations she’s given. I’m hoping she’ll offer a course on identity theft. I want to learn more from her.

This is currently my favorite book of 2020. I’m already planning to re-read it next year.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #88: “Thank You, Mr. Falker”

My mom asked me to buy five copies of this book from Amazon toward the end of 2019.

I said, “Sure. Absolutely, I’m happy to help.”

I read many of Patricia Polacco’s books as a kid, but I hadn’t heard of this one. I first learned about her through LeVar Burton and Reading Rainbow.


My mom let me read one of the copies I purchased soon after they arrived. At the end of the 37 pages, I was crying. The story is so special and heartwarming.

It shows that teachers truly make a difference. Mr. Falker made a huge difference in the little girl’s life, especially when there weren’t nearly as many male teachers back in the 1940s.

It’s hard to talk about this book because I don’t want to spoil anything. What I will say is this book is based on true events and real people.


This is one of the best children’s books I’ve read. I plan to buy a copy for several teacher friends for their classroom libraries. If you haven’t read Polacco before, I highly recommend it. Her writing is beautiful, and she also illustrates them.

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #87: “Big Magic: How to Live a Creative Life, and Let Go of Your Fear”

This was one of FIVE books that Al bought me for Christmas!

This book, along with Kristen Martin’s Soulflow (Review coming soon!), felt like divine guidance when I needed it most. I was in such a slump with blogging and writing until the beginning of May. Then, it felt like a switch was flipped in my head. I felt inspired again. And both these books were big contributors.


I’m planning to read more from Gilbert down the line. But, this book is just what I needed at this particular moment. It’s part memoir, part self-help, part inspiration.

Although not pleased with how choppy everything felt at the beginning, I liked how she structured the book. It was like listening to a wise friend or relative tell stories over the course of a summer afternoon. And there was something for me to remember or ponder over with every chapter. She placed good reminders in my hear and heart.


It’s hard to describe Big Magic! But I felt comforted the entire time. It was a breezy read, perfect as the weather here has gone up and down and sideways. Until yesterday, it felt like September!

As someone who has Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and struggle most days with imposter syndrome, this book allayed my fears. It’s shown me to stare my fear(s) straight in the face, and proclaim, “You don’t own me. You don’t control me. I do. So step aside and let me finish the work I was called to create. Thanks!”

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #86: “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”

My friend Cynthia sent me a copy, along with a beautiful letter telling me how much she enjoyed this book. I’d heard of Neil Gaiman for years, but never read any of his books until now.

Some nights, I read multiple chapters. However, most nights, I slogged through one chapter and then went to bed. I almost gave up on this book about four chapters in.

I’m so glad I didn’t.


This book renewed my interest in fantasy. Gaiman is a master storyteller and world-builder. There were several events and plot points that I considered to be violent and unsettling, but I think that’s me, my personality, and this being my first introduction to Gaiman’s writing.

Even though I slogged through a chapter or two more often than not, it’s likely because of how immersive Gaiman’s world is from the get-go. You’re right next to the protagonist, unnamed, his family, and the Hempstocks the entire time. I put the book down once or twice and realized that I, in fact, was not in the English countryside with the characters. You’re immediately invested in every detail.

The imagery is profound. It’s fitting that he used the word “ocean” in the title – This book is like an ocean. Its never-ending words and story, lapping over you like constant waves. And it’s a good thing. It’s hard to put it down after one chapter, and the chapters are shorter than I thought they would be. It keeps pulling you in for more.


If you’ve read fantasy before, this is a treat. It will take you away, and not spit you out until the very end. It’s beautifully written, almost lyrical or song-like.

If you haven’t read many fantasy books, I’m not sure this would be a good place to start. Gaiman is a great writer, but he’s very heavy. I experienced multiple emotions while reading. It’s very dark, but it’s dark for a reason. However, that’s not a bad thing. It’s award-winning for so many good things.

In the end, this book was a good one for me to read. It came into my life at a good time. Reading Gaiman is almost magical, and I was sad when the book ended, because it ended.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #85: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” *Re-Read*

Image Credit: Amazon

Here are my reviews of the other books so far:


Originally, I didn’t really care for this book as much as others. However, I’ve had a change of heart. It’s still not my favorite book of the series, but I now understand why many people love this one in particular.

I fell in love with Lupin. I now realize why many people enjoy and are enamored with his character. I also learned more about the history of Hogwarts and the characters who came through before Harry, Ron, and Hermione – Especially Harry’s parents.

I’m excited to move on to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Another favorite!

5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #84: “Paper Girls Volume 1”

I first heard about this book from Sara’s review on her blog, The Bibliophagist!

I found my copy at 2nd and Charles in Newport News this summer.

One of the beautiful things about graphic novels is you get a great story, plus beautiful illustrations. The writing of Brian Vaughan and illustrating by Cliff Chiang did not disappoint!

This was a quicker read than I expected. The first night, I got through about a quarter of the book. The next time I picked it up, I got through another 10-15 pages. Last night, when I finished it at the chiropractor’s office, I’d flown through the rest of it in less than 30 minutes. All told, I think it was roughly an hour to 90 minutes for me. The illustrations in particular were incredible, and I wanted to keep turning the pages!

I was left with wanting to find Volume 2 immediately. However, I’m going be a responsible adult here, and wait a bit before purchasing the next one.

I loved the characters, and the adventure they are thrust into within minutes of the book’s opening. I also appreciated the setting – 1988 – and the “vintage” vibes and multiple references. I felt like I was watching everything unfold in the background.

Have you read any graphic novels?


5 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #83: “The Stolen Sapphire: A Samantha Mystery”

I received this book through a fun gift exchange on Facebook. I’m part of several American Girl groups, and one of them started an Elfster gift exchange last year for Christmas. The group has done it three times since then. It’s been very popular!

I don’t remember ever reading this particular mystery, so I was thrilled to get it!

The book is a solid 171 pages, which is great for American Girl’s target audience of 8 years old and up. Being a mystery, it does have some frightening moments, but it’s also an easy ready, with shorter chapters and a good story.

Set two years after Samantha’s original books, she and Nellie set sail on the RMS Queen Caroline, headed for Europe. Now eleven years old, they want to have fun on the voyage, but are accompanied by a French tutor to help them keep up with their schoolwork while they miss school for two weeks. Along the way, they meet quite a cast of characters. When the legendary blue sapphire disappears, everyone on the ship is a suspect! And Nellie appears to be hiding something as well.

For years, Samantha’s character has been criticized as snobby, stuck-up, and privileged. Her original books are set in 1904, and it’s no secret that her family is wealthy and of high society. However, Samantha is kind, and reaches out to Nellie and her sisters, especially when they realize they have all been orphans due to their parents’ early demises.

This mystery was exciting. The first night reading it, I only made it through the first two chapters before going to sleep. However, the next night, the story was so engaging, I couldn’t put it down. Before I knew it, I had finished the book. I wanted to figure out who the thief was! For a book aimed at young girls, I loved how it was really hard to guess the real culprit. It was like I was playing detective with Samantha and Nellie, navigating the ins and outs of the ship, which was more modest than other ocean liners of the early 1900s.

I was pleased with this book. It has the right amount of character development, conflict, suspense, and mystery. I want to read the other Samantha mysteries now, and go back to re-read her original books, too.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #82: “Janesville: An American Story”

This was one of the books I picked up through a generous Barnes and Noble gift card from my parents. I’ve always been interested in and fascinated by non-fiction and human-interest stories. Amy Goldstein was one writer I had not heard of that afternoon in August, but something called to me.

As I started reading, I felt an instant connection because of the setting – Wisconsin. Just the cover alone made me think of the snow-covered hills and woods at my cousin Ryan’s house in Hortonville when we visited in the late 1990s.

But this story is more than that. It’s about multiple families and their take on one thing, one monumental event – The GM plant closing in 2008. What follows is the next five years of how this town of industry claws its way back from the brink, and how so many people were affected by what is now known as the Great Recession.

I liked how Goldstein divided the book by year. It doesn’t always work out well this way, but the way she structured it was solid. Keeping up with the cast of characters was a bit challenging, but it was nice to have a list of them at the beginning, before you even start reading.

One of the biggest takeaways of this book is how large the ripple effect is. It not only affects the workers, it affects the unions, their marriages, their relationships, their families, their political focuses, and more. And still, by the end of the book, Janesville has reached 2013. Have things gotten better? It’s hard to say. Goldstein’s on-the-ground reporting, going deep into Janesville and its people, is amazing research. I could tell she really got to know the people in the book, as well as a sense of the whole community.

Goldstein also attempts to balance the light and dark, so to speak. She looks at the GM workers and those struggling with layoffs and disappearing industry. A few pages later, she ties in Mary, the well-to-do head of the local bank, who is fundraising and trying her best to help others, while she is at the top of the heap in terms of wealth. Goldstein also shines a light on Paul Ryan, other political candidates, and Governor Scott Walker.

As complex as this book is, I enjoyed it. I’m glad I read it. I felt a sense of understanding, but not empathy. In 2008, as the Great Recession was beginning, I was starting my sophomore year of college. I know I come from a family of privilege. My parents only had to worry a handful of times when the government shut down and my dad was furloughed.

That was certainly stressful, but not nearly as stressful, heartbreaking, and frustrating as watching your livelihood simply vanish. And trying to keep your house. Keeping your marriage and family together. Watching your teenage kids work one, two, three jobs to help out. Sometimes losing loved ones entirely, whether it was health issues brought on by stress, or not finding a way out other than wanting to end your life.

Website: amygoldsteinwriter.com

4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂

Book Review #81: “More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say)”

Image Credit: Amazon

I put this book on my Amazon wish list a few months ago, and then Al bought it for me for my birthday!

Little did I know how much I needed this book in my life when I started reading it.


I took my time with this book. Elaine is a good writer, but I found myself digesting one, maybe two chapters at a time.

This book is aimed at women of color, but it certainly applied to me. I’m glad I read it when I did. Having started my new job in September, I had a lot of anxiety and emotions, and more than one crisis of confidence. This book lifted me out of that negativity.


I hadn’t heard of Elaine when I started the book, but I felt like I knew her when I was done. She was so candid and honest about her early life, growing up as a biracial child, her dad’s struggles with alcohol, and wanting to work at Essence and Ebony.

Watching her navigate the painful eras of the recession and the move toward digital publishing was eye-opening, too. As someone who dreamed of living in New York and being a journalist for years, I felt like this book was put in my life for more than one reason. Elaine showed me how life in New York and working for some of the most famous magazines on this Earth really was – It’s certainly no picnic.

It’s not my favorite memoir, but I’m glad I took a chance on it. I appreciated the inspiring quotes at the end of every chapter as well. She’s a gifted writer, and there’s something in this book for everyone.

I’m grateful to Al for buying this for me!

4 out of 5 stars.


Until the next headline, Laura Beth 🙂