The History Makers – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Val Bodurtha

Val Bodurtha’s The History Makers is an imaginative take on what the modern Aztec culture would be like if the Aztec Empire had prevailed to the present day. Myla is a teenager in modern-day Azteca, enjoying the spoils of upper-class life. Then, on her seventeenth birthday, she is “enlightened” and told a devastating truth that will change her life as she knows it. Caught in a web of lies between the Priesthood and the rebels opposing them, Myla must decide what the truth really is before it’s too late.

Perhaps the only downfall to this book is that there isn’t more of it. Although still fascinating and extraordinarily creative, The History Makers could have included far more detailed information about this modern Aztec culture, the Priesthood and rebels, and the future of its protagonist, Myla. What’s in this book feels more like a taste of a great series than a standalone novel with no future sequels. In some respects, this makes The History Makers seem rushed and incomplete, but it also leaves the door open for the story to continue. Hopefully, it does.

The History Makers is an innovative take on young adult fiction; though it has a few of the staples we have come to expect from the genre, it’s more unique and intriguing than the cookie-cutter YA books some may be used to. Val Bodurtha’s inclusion and reimagining of a real society in history is fascinating, as is her depth and tact as a writer. The History Makers is creative, dramatic, highly immersive, and an overall phenomenal read for fans of any genre; let us just hope that Val Bodurtha plans to continue Myla’s story in the future.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Pepper – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Martha Rodriquez

In Martha Rodriguez’s Pepper, sixteen-year-old Pepper Causey is the only girl amid her seven rowdy, prankster brothers. Fed up with poverty, country life, and her brothers’ shenanigans, Pepper feels stuck and longs to escape. She finds temporary relief in a support group called CARE, but even that doesn’t give her the freedom she desires. Then, she meets Stoney, a hippie boy who promises her the world. His love has a price, though – one that Pepper is not sure she wants to pay.

Pepper is written simply and in a straightforward manner; while this is effective in some areas, there are others that could have used more detail or development. Because of this, certain parts of the narrative seemed rushed or underdeveloped. Paired with a few minor plot inconsistencies and grammatical errors here and there, Pepper might benefit from an additional revision.

However, Pepper proved to be an excellent book largely because of its main character, Pepper. She is naïve, angsty, sometimes childish and sometimes mature, like most sixteen-year-olds. Despite her journey taking place in the era of hippies and the Vietnam war, her emotions and story are relatable and believable in any time period; all teenagers have been in Pepper’s shoes, one way or another. Martha Rodriguez writes with invaluable insight into humanity and the difficulties of adolescence, all while portraying a creative and intriguing story for all ages. Pepper is a charming, relatable, humorous, and introspective novel that will remind all readers of their own journeys as they travel along with Pepper on hers.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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[Author Interview] Jacqui Letran | 5 Simple Questions to Reclaim Your Happiness

Featured Authors Talk About It

Author Interview

Jacqui Letran

ATAI: Tell us a little about you.

Jacqui: My name is Jacqui Letran. I’m an author, speaker, and teen confidence expert.  I have 17 years of experience working with teens in both the medical setting as a Nurse Practitioner and the holistic setting as a Teen Confidence Expert and Success Coach.

My passion for working with teens started as a result of my own experiences as a teenager.  I struggled so much with trying to find my own identity and my place in the world, and I had moderate anxiety and depression. Along my journey I discovered something so simple, yet so profound, “change your thoughts, change your life!”  This little nugget of wisdom changed everything for me.  I knew I had to share it with others.

I love being able to connect with my readers and teach them how to take charge of their lives by taking control of their thoughts, feelings, and actions. I feel so fortunate to be able to do what I do, and spreading my message world-wide through my books and my online practice, Teen Confidence Academy.

ATAI: How long have you been writing?

Jacqui: I started writing professionally in 2014.

ATAI: What was your most recent release?

Jacqui: My most recent release was the 2nd edition of my first book, 5 Simple Questions to Reclaim Your Happiness! in June 2017. I had a lot of wonderful feedback from readers that I incorporated into the 2nd edition to make it even more relevant and impactful. Readers requested more case studies, so I added in several more.  Also, I’m making part of this edition a workbook so readers can follow along and use the questions and other tools I provide to quickly reclaim their happiness.  After the revision, this book was awarded a Gold Medal from Literary Classics in the category of Young Adult Self-Help.

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ATAI: What do you love most about writing?

Jacqui: I love being able to express myself and knowing that my work will reach so many teens, who often need some extra support and insight to understand how they can feel good about themselves and be confident in life.

ATAI: What do you find most challenging?

Jacqui: English is my second language so grammar is a challenge for me. In my native language, we do not pluralize nouns. So it’s one banana, two banana, twenty banana. In addition, we do not use tenses the same way. So for us, it’s, “I go today.” “I go tomorrow.” “I go yesterday.” You can imagine how confusing it might be for me to figure out where which words need an “s” at the end, and what the appropriate tense should be. Thank goodness there are editors for that work.

ATAI: Where do your ideas come from?

Jacqui: I never entertained the idea of being an author until my clients kept requesting that I share my work in writing.  I am blessed to have a private practice helping people improve their lives by taking control of their minds.  I really enjoy helping people overcome big problems and emotional challenges by giving them the tools to be their own source of strength and power. So with each client, I would teach them about their mind and how to take control of it.  There is a lot of information to digest so my clients would ask me for a written summary.  After repeatedly hearing this request, the most logical thing to do was write a book.  

As the book evolved, I became more excited. I realized how important books were to me when I was a teen in need of help, and here was my chance to pay it forward!  Although the content in my book applies to anyone, whether young or old, I wrote the book specifically to help teens.  I hope that my work can reach teens who need some extra support. I want the book to help them feel less alone, give them some insights, as well as practical tools, so they can go after what they want to get out of life.

ATAI: What is your writing process?

Jacqui: I remember sitting down at my computer to type out my book.  The first several attempts were horrible! I would type, delete, type, delete, type and delete some more.  I had to make every single sentence perfect.  After hours of hard work, I only had a few paragraphs to show for it.  

It was so frustrating.  I knew my topic very well and I can teach it in my sleep, yet, I couldn’t articulate it on the word processor.  I knew that if I continued this way, it would take years to complete my book, and I did not want to wait that long.  That was when I decided to write everything out by hand.  I would go to a local coffee shop or to the beach and write as if I were teaching a client.  I wrote freely; no re-reading, and no editing.  I spent two to three hours writing each day, and within seven weeks, I completed the first book. It took several days for me to type up everything and then the first round of editing started. I learned it takes many rounds of editing, but the core messages of the book flowed from the tip of my pen without the distraction of real-time editing of each sentence!

ATAI: Do your characters (or message) ever seem to have a life of their own or an agenda of their own?

Jacqui: I’m sure this has happened through the development process, but I’m not aware of a specific example. When readers connect with me, they often share stories with me about how my books helped them to understand themselves and others better. They also tell me that it is easier to have a positive attitude when they use try some of the tools I’ve given them.

ATAI: What’s your favorite part of your book (or one of your books)?

Jacqui: My favorite of I would, but my DAMN MIND won’t let me! is the 60-Second Reader, which is a brief summary of each chapter. I have heard from many readers that they enjoy the concise recap of the chapters and often use that as a quick reference to take control of their emotions.

ATAI: What are you working on next?

Jacqui: I’m currently working on the third book in my Words of Wisdom for Teens series. It is called, How to Unleash Your Inner Super Powers and Destroy Anxiety and Self-Doubt.  This is the third book in my Words of Wisdom for Teen Series and the most fun to write so far.  I’m working toward a late November release, just in time to help teens start the next year with increased confidence, having learned about their own Inner Super Powers.

ATAI: Where can people find you online?

Jacqui: I love connecting with readers and reading their feedback on my books. Readers can find me at:

https://JacquiLetran.com

https://Instagram.com/WOW4Teens

https://Instagram.com/Msletran

https://Twitter.com/MsLetran

https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacquiletran

ATAI: Thank you for sharing with us and our audience.

Jacqui: Thank you so much for this wonderful interview. I have one more thing I would like to share with your readers. One of the most powerful lessons I have learned is, “change your thoughts, change your life.”  It sounds simple, but it is very powerful because whatever you focus on grows bigger.  Your thoughts are like color-tinted goggles. Whatever color your lenses are, you will experience the entire world around you through that “filter”. Whatever your thoughts are about your situation become the experiences you have in life. Your thoughts are also like a giant magnet, pulling to you more of the same.  If you have negative thoughts, you’ll attract more negativity into your life.  Conversely, if you have positive thoughts, you’ll attract more positivity into your life. So, if you are having an experience you don’t like, challenge yourself to change your thoughts into more empowering ones and get prepared to be amazed at how your world changes!


*NOTE: ATAI does not edit the responses of the authors.

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The Rite of Wands – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Mackenzie Flohr

In Mackenzie Flohr’s The Rite of Wands, twelve-year-old Mierta McKinnon is looking forward to his Rite of Wands ceremony, which will cement his role as a warlock. However, during the ritual, he experiences a haunting vision of the future – and of his own terrible demise. Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old Orlynd is another warlock, the soothsayer to the king, capable of seeing visions of the future. He’s not always taken seriously, though, to the detriment of those around him. Around them, a terrible plague is looming over the land, one that could devastate them all if it is not stopped.

In the beginning, it is a bit difficult to get the hang of The Rite of Wands, as in most fantasy novels as complex as this one. It takes a few chapters to get used to the dialects, pacing, and shifting perspectives, but the inclusion of language and dialect guides in the beginning of the book will help with that. Once readers get acclimated to the unique style of this book, they’re in for a treat. The Rite of Wands is much like the Harry Potter series in that it prominently features magic and is written for all ages; however, this book is also much different than Harry Potter in that it is more traditional and ethnic, though still unique.

The Rite of Wands is such an enchanting fantasy novel partly because of its complex, relatable, and believable characters. Mackenzie Flohr avoids the clichés of the genre, instead crafting a story that is so detailed, honest, and immersive that it’s hard to put the book down. Also, the descriptive language used is wonderful; although not extravagant, the words used paint a clear and vivid portrait for readers, and a very enjoyable one at that. The Rite of Wands is a great read for beginners or seasoned fans of the fantasy genre alike, and a promising start to what will inevitably be a phenomenal fantasy series.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Always Darkest – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Jess & Keith Flaherty

In Jess and Keith Flaherty’s Always Darkest, angels and demons alike are consumed with the Emerald Hill prophecy, which foretells the birth of a girl with amazing abilities. The demon Ronoven is hiding on Earth, investigating the prophecy, disguised as a drifter named Ben. There, he meets Chris, who is also hiding secrets of his own. Then, “Ben” finds Malin, the subject of the prophecy and both the daughter of an angel and the last living descendant of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. There’s a lot in store for Mal, but she wants to be in control of her own destiny – which is easier said than done.

There are some aspects of Always Darkest that seem a bit too cliché, such as the prophecy in general, the angels vs. demons conflict, and the improbable, against-all-odds love story. Also, some parts of the story tend to be confusing, as the pacing is often jumpy and uneven. Other portions of this book seem to focus far too much on tedious exposition and foreshadowing and not nearly enough on moving the plot forward (it takes nineteen chapters for the three main characters to even be in the same room together, let alone get anything actually started).

Nevertheless, Always Darkest is quite an entertaining read. There’s a ton of great descriptive language and lighthearted humor in its pages, which serves to hold the reader’s attention even in the slower-paced portions of the book. Jess and Keith Flaherty have inserted a lot of fantastic creativity, religious imagery, suspense, and mystery into their work, making Always Darkest an interesting literary concoction in itself. Always Darkest is a unique combination of epic fantasy and contemporary romance, which is an intriguing recipe guaranteed to delight its unsuspecting readers.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Sojourner McConnell

An adorable chapter book for young children, Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas? (The Dolcey Series) gives young girls a powerful life lesson while allowing them to step into a fantasy. Sojourner McConnell brings to life a young fairy who has powerful magic that she’s only just begun to start using to help others. When Dolcey here’s a child in need, she has been taught by her mother how to implement her powers to offer guidance and assistance. Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas? is her first experience in actually getting to help. She hears a young girl named Emily and rushes off to not only find her but help her get through the challenging time she is facing.

The colorful imagery within Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas?, illustrated by Ellie Barrett, add an additional element of fun and fantasy to Sojoruner McConnell’s story. These occasional images help bridge a gap between young students who are ready to read more difficult books and embrace more complex concepts with readers who aren’t quite ready to give up the picture book feel. Who’s That in the Pajamas? is a very well-written story and has a fun story line all while sharing a message of hope and a lesson on how to cope with big life changes that are out of one’s control. Sojourner McConnell’s Who’s That in the Cat Pajamas?, the first in her The Dolcey Series, would make for a wonderful tool for parents who are looking for something to help their children deal with a big move away from family and friends. It’s simply a must read!

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Damn Mind – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

5 Stars

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Jacqui Letran

Jacqui Letran’s second book in her Words of Wisdom for Teens series is another shining light for young adults. I would but my DAMN MIND won’t let me!: A teen’s guide to controlling their thoughts and feelings is a book written to help teenagers break patterns and gain a better understanding of how their mind works. Coming from the view point of clinical psychology and science, Damn Mind is an excellent secular resource. Letran not only breaks down technical scientific and psychological concepts into understandable chunks of information, but she wraps up the educational chapters with what she calls 60-Second Readers, which are bullet-poined summaries of the content from each chapter. In the last third of the book, she offers case studies. At the end of each of those chapters, she offers a tip and a self-reflection exercise. She also offers “free stuff” including the audiobook through a link on her website. Therefore, she gives readers the opportunity to explore further once they’ve read Damn Mind.

Written in language that is relatable to teens, Damn Mind is a quick and fairly easy read. Occasionally, some of the chapter sections are a bit heavy or complex in their wording, but Jacqui Letran quickly offers simpler language within the text. Throughout the the educational sections of the book she shares interesting information and unique ways of looking at things. For example, Letran shared and pulled out in a highlighted section that the conscious mind can only take in 1% of the information that it is being fed at any given moment. She also compared the importance of thinking in positive terms to doing a Google search – the mind nor Google pays attention to words such as “don’t”. Jacqui Letran asks deep and powerful questions in I would but my DAMN MIND won’t let me! I highly recommend Letran’s Damn Mind for teens everywhere.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Reclaim Your Happiness – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Jacqui Letran

Jacqui Letran’s 5 Simple Questions to Reclaim Your Happiness is a straightforward self-help guide to, well, reclaiming your happiness. In it, Letran prompts the reader to ask themselves these five questions: What am I feeling? Why do I feel this way? Is this emotion useful? How can I see this differently? And, would I rather be right or happy? Letran also includes the accounts of three of her clients to illustrate how effective addressing those five questions can be. Along with a ton of helpful writing prompts for the reader, 5 Simple Questions to Reclaim Your Happiness is a tool with which its readers can get their lives – and happiness – back.

Though they illustrate her point well, the supposedly real-life examples that Jacqui Letran used in this book seemed far too fictionalized; all of them toed the line of believability, sometimes even seeming to cross that line. Whether these characters really were clients of hers – and whether some of the details in their stories have been embellished – remains to be seen. Also, 5 Simple Questions was a bit too short and vague. In some respects, it wasn’t exactly a revolutionary self-help book; some additional detail and fresh ideas would help here.

There were some truly excellent qualities about this book, though – one of them being Jacqui Letran’s straight-to-the-point style of writing. She doesn’t waste time trying to be the reader’s best friend, but rather, lays out her ideas and evidence and lets the reader use them however they see fit. Not only was this an interesting approach, but it was also an effective one. Also, the use of detailed questions and writing prompts is a fantastic way to keep readers interested and actively engaged – in the book and in their own lives. 5 Simple Questions to Reclaim Your Happiness is a short and quick self-help book, but lives up to its genre and gives the reader the tools they need to help themselves – and it certainly pays off.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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My Lonely Room – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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John A. Vikara

John A. Vikara’s My Lonely Room follows twelve-year-old Jimmy Yadenik as he navigates his confusing adolescent life. Stuck between a disinterested father, tired mother, and wicked landlady, Jimmy’s only source of happiness is his journal, in which he writes about his life and crafts comic book adventures for his fictional band of friends. However, that all changes when a series of accidental events lands him in the back of a cop car with Johnny Sadinski. The two strike up an unlikely friendship and Johnny invites Jimmy to join his “club”, the Vandals. At first, joining seems like a great idea, but Jimmy soon finds out that being a part of a gang isn’t at all what he expected.

My Lonely Room’s pacing is a bit awkward; some scenes seem to drag on forever, while others speed by too quickly. Many scenes focus a bit too heavily on teenage brooding; while this is accurate to the character, it does tend to be tiresome to read. Also, it seemed as if many of the descriptions in My Lonely Room (for instance, the first walkthrough of Jimmy’s apartment) were rambling and unnatural; they deviated too far from a natural, flowing narration. Paired with several instances of tense disagreement and a plethora of run-on sentences, My Lonely Room certainly has potential for improvement.

Despite this, My Lonely Room is a truly great piece of fiction – such a good one, in fact, that it’s easy to forget that it is only fiction, rather than a truthful account of a real teenager. John A. Vikara portrays the uncertainty of adolescence perfectly and truthfully, with precision rarely obtained in modern literature. Also, Vikara represents the time period well; his nostalgia for the 1950s is wonderfully written, without ever making his portrayal of the decade seem like a rough caricature. All in all, My Lonely Room is a good read, with a protagonist that people of all ages, born in any decade, will relate to wholeheartedly.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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Future School – Entered in 2017 ATAI Book Award Contest

4 Stars

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Eric Pattersonn Eric Patterson’s Future School: Walk Like Lions, twelve-year-old Bridgette is devastated to learn that she has been accepted to the most prestigious school in the country, The Las Vegas School of Excellence. She never wanted to go, but the full scholarship and promise of a bright future would be a great opportunity for her struggling family. Once there, though, Bridgette’s fears quickly escalate. Her new school is using a mysterious brain-enhancing serum on its students, but its harmful effects are quickly brushed under the rug. Along with her new friends, Janice and George, Bridgette must summon the lion’s courage within her and discover the truth, once and for all.


Future School: Walk Like Lions vaguely resembles other literary greats, such as Roald Dahl’s Matilda and Stephen King’s Carrie. These three stories all incorporate the same aspects of wonder, suspense, and mysterious mental abilities. However, despite likely gathering inspiration from these two works, Future School takes an entirely unique approach to the genre. Rather than featuring just one telepathic protagonist, like in Carrie and Matilda, Future School explores an entire community comprised of these unique characters – and the corrupt practices that gave them those abilities in the first place. The plot that follows these “gifted” children is a most interesting one, full of corruption, fear, and pure determination.


Future School certainly contains its share of drawbacks, though; certain areas of the plot seemed to progress far too slowly, while others raced through aspects that the readers might like to know more about. The occasional interjection of passages or chapters from other characters’ perspectives tended to be confusing, as well. However, the sheer brilliance of Future School’s plot and colorful characters makes it all worthwhile. Future School: Walk Like Lions is an exciting, terrifying, and entirely unique young adult novel that, at the very least, will give its readers loads to think about. In that regard, Eric Patterson surpasses the likes of Carrie and Matilda and takes his story in an entirely new – and consequently, wonderful – direction.

Originally critiqued by a member of the Authors Talk About It team.

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