Instagram Algorithm – Shadowban

My last post on the algorithm talked about some of the basics. You can review all of that info HERE.

I’ve resolved to fully educate myself on this Dark Magic, so today, I want to talk about the one thing that does seem to guarantee low engagement and performance on your posts. The dreaded SHADOWBAN.

First, shadowban sounds like an awesome ninja name when you first read it. Doesn’t it? But, unfortunately, like with their entire platform, Instagram took something awesome and made it not so awesome. Harsh? Maybe. But, by all accounts their decision to move from chronological to this algorithm has only benefitted large accounts. But, I digress.

So what is a shadowban? Essentially this means that your post, and in some cases, your entire profile have been flagged unbeknownst to you. The difficulty in this is, how do you know you’ve been shadowbanned if you don’t know? Hopefully this post can help you with some tricks.

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Let’s start with the essential question: how do I know if my post is impacted?

The biggest trigger to indicate your posts are being flagged is low engagement. If your likes suddenly drop fairly dramatically, you’re only seeing likes and comments only from people who follow you, and your comments drop significantly, you could have been shadowbanned.

This is tricky though, because your post could simply be suffering from low performance for reasons other than a shadowban. (We’ll get into those in a future post.) So, to know for sure, you’re going to need an Instagram buddy. Or, at least a second account.

From an account that does not follow you, and this is key, make sure that the account you’re checking from DOES NOT FOLLOW YOU! Go to one of your hashtags and search for your post. If your post has been shadowbanned, you will not show up in the hashtag search.

This is important because it means that your posts will only show up to users that already follow you. No one knew. Which is the entire point of using hashtags. To become discoverable to new followers. So being aware of this is important if your goal is to grow your account.

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The next question is, how does a post become shadowbanned?

There are multiple answers to this. The primary reason is using banned or restricted hashtags.

Hashtags get flagged frequently. If enough users are offended at posts using a certain hashtag, they get flagged. I believe that there is a place on Instagram that tracks these, but I don’t know that for sure. However, I can show you a trick.

Let’s take the hashtag that got me. #books

I used to use that one fairly frequently because my account deals with books. Makes sense right? Turns out this hashtag is shadowbanned. Here’s how to tell.

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When you use the search function for any tag, you see a result screen like this. There’s the Top Nine at the top, and then below that will have Most Recent. As you can see from the screenshot above, #books goes on for longer than the Top Nine, whereas #bookstagram has a white space after the Top Nine. This isn’t cropped, it’s just white space.

If you scroll down for #books, you’ll come across this:

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Unless you make the Top Posts, which are more numerous than just the Top Nine, all recent posts are hidden.

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a big deal. Just try and make the Top Posts right? NOPE!

For some reason, and I’m not quite sure the logic here, but if you use #books, every hashtag you use will also be hidden. So, by using one flagged hashtag, your entire post will be shadowbanned.

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If you check the hashtags you use, and you aren’t using any flagged one, YAY! One step eliminated. But you still need to figure out why you’ve been shadowbanned.

It could be that you have been flagged for using the same hashtags for a length of time. A lot of people have become used to saving their hashtag comments as a shortcut, rather than typing them out. If you use the same ones, this signals possible “bot” activity and flags your posts.

You can still use the shortcut trick. But you have to have several options saved. It is also a good idea to use hashtags relevant to your post. I will use hashtags for the book and author I’m posting for, along with any relevant publisher tags, and then use a few of my favorites. Whether you type them out each post, or use a shortcut trick, just make sure you’re changing them frequently to avoid being flagged.

The bot trigger is the third way. Some apps have become popular because you can create content and schedule a post. This is a lifesaver for people who work, or have busy schedules, and you’ve discovered that per the rules of the Universe, those are the times when you get the most engagement. The problem is, these apps use the same IP address for all posts; OR, the IP address is constantly changing locations. Depending on how popular they are, this can cause the address to be flagged which will make your post spam.

And speaking of bots, if you use a bot service to gain followers, the activity from both the follow activity and potential IP address issue will cause your account to be flagged.

This last point is tricky as well, because if you are spending time on a slow Sunday afternoon catching up on likes and following accounts, you may get flagged. So, I would caution heading to multiple accounts and liking all their photos in a short period of time. Ditto for following or unfollowing a ton of accounts in a short amount of time. These can appear as bot activity.

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I know. It’s a lot. And all of this can feel very overwhelming very fast. That’s why again, I will say, know the goal for your account. It may not matter if no one outside of your follower base sees your posts. But, if you want to grow your account for whatever reason, these are things to be aware of. Find the level of awareness that fits you.

Generally speaking, taking a one to two day break from posting will reset any shadowbans, or problems with algorithms. If you used hidden hashtags, once you stop using them, you should see your posts begin to bounce back. If you’ve been blocked from liking or following, it’s usually temporary and if you are aware of your activity, you should be fine.

Some people have stated that simply stopping the hashtag, or changing up your hashtags will boost your posts since it lifts the ban. I find that taking at least a day break works better and my account always recovers faster. You’ll have to find what works for you.

I don’t have any words of wisdom for using a posting app, as I don’t use one, and never had. There are some that allow you to plan a post but you post your photo yourself, which solves the IP address problem. Just be aware of what app you are using and how they work.

The algorithm can be a difficult thing to wrap your hands around. Hopefully this helps just a little!

 

Morning Star – Review

Here’s the deal Howlers! This is the third book in a trilogy, so this review will contain spoilers from the first two books. It can’t be helped so stop whining, you gorydamn Pixies. To be perfectly honest darling, if you haven’t read this series by now, you are never going to earn your scar at this rate!

“I rise into darkness, away from the garden they watered with the blood of my friends.”

In case anyone could forget the traumatizing cliffhanger that Golden Son left us with, Pierce Brown stabs us right in the gut with his opening sentence. Again. This guy loves making his readers cry. Repeatedly.

But it is such a sweet agony!

The opening of Morning Star tests our limitations for hopelessness. In fact, this book, out of the three tests the reader the most.

“I feel like a prisoner who has spent his whole life digging through the wall, only to break through and find he’s dug into another cell.”

This is the first book where Darrow cannot hold onto his own chains of secrecy. He has to learn to trust, really trust, in his friends. In the way he asked for before but never gave in return. This trust is difficult for him, but opens the door for some beautiful relationships to begin to develop with Darrow.

The beauty in this book is the emphasis on trust. Darrow isn’t a chosen one. Yes, he’s a symbol, but the fate of mankind is not fated on his shoulders. Even the rebellion isn’t fully dependent on him, though obviously, he plays a key role. I feel like this book really refocuses the whole point of what the Son of Ares stands for. Building a better Society for everyone, not the few.

While the previous two books can feel very cold and cruel, Morning Star is a book full of warmth. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of brutality, violence and cruelty written in the pages. This society didn’t undergo a complete change of heart overnight, after all. But, in contrast, you see the possibility of the rebellion solidify into the full potential of Eo’s dream.

“I always told Victra to let people in. I could never take my own advice because I knew one day I’d have to betray them, that the foundation of our friendship was a lie.”

But potential doesn’t always mean victory.

Darrow learns rather quickly that war is messy, and difficult to control. They have unleashed the tide of the lowColors into open rebellion, but they may not all share the vision of a peaceful society like he does. Many want to see Golds punished. But this isn’t the way to bridge society into a better tomorrow. This discord once again provides a tone of reality to this series that I really enjoy. It also ensures that nothing with Darrow, nor his plans, will ever go easily.

“Victories are less romantic when you’re cleaning your friends off the floor.”

Beyond the rebellion and the battle over the future of Society, this book is about relationships. We see them develop in such an intimate way. Not just with Darrow, but between everyone that is choosing the side he and the Son of Ares represents. It’s a fascinating conversation over fighting for an ideal versus fighting for what’s right. Do you watch horror and atrocity and wrap yourself in your ideals to excuse the violence? Or do you see beyond it to something more?

We also get to see the dynamics and power structures of other Colors beyond the Gold and Red. Finally we see how fully the Golds of Society have stayed in power. The full scope and horror of their manipulation is jaw-dropping. And also the sheer arrogance they have shrouded themselves in.

“And man was never meant to tame fire. That’s the beauty of it,” he says challengingly. “This moon is a hateful little horror. But through ingenuity, through will we made it ours.”

Everything in this book is played with higher stakes. This is an all out battle over a Society to remain the same, or one that will be forever changed. Adding the element of the deeper relationships, along with showing characters dealing with the trauma not just of war, but of torture and loss, adds to this escalation experience.

Every single battle is more intense, whether the scale is one to one in the snow of the Poles, or facing an enormous Armada in the depth of space. And, again, the intensity ratchets up even more because war is never clean. War is never easy. And people on both sides die. Brown isn’t afraid to show us the horror of loss, the reality that war isn’t selective and that death comes to us all.

“War is not monstrous for making corpses of men so much as it is for making machines of them. And woe to those who have no use in war except to feed the machines.”

And the ending. Oh, goryhell, talk about a writer ripping your heart out and holding it while it bleeds on the floor. I am rarely shocked at a book. And I rarely am so upset that I am tempted to close the book, slag that, throw the book and never look back. You think you’re ready for heartbreak. But you have no idea. And while I won’t ruin the reading for anyone, just keep reading. Remember, I said this book will test you.

While any death is difficult, rarely is it careless in this series. Heartbreak is sometimes inevitable. Brown never relents in doing what is true for the story, true to his characters, even if it means doing the hard thing.

“Everything is cracked, everything is stained except the fragile moments that hang crystalline in time and make life worth living.”

Pierce Brown gets the tragedy of what it means to be human. We are a fickle species. Capable of achieving the heights of greatness or falling to the depths of depravity. He shows us this spectrum without flinching, or romanticizing it. This series will take you down through how truly awful we can be, but will also show you how simultaneously wonderful we also are.

Yes, these books are about war. And societal strife. They are full of violence and cruelty and brutality. But they are also about friendships. Love. What it means to live for more. To live for others. It is a book on the grand spectacle of humanity. And one very much worth reading.

Exploring the Instagram Algorithm

Anyone who has been on Instagram for the last year knows the dark magic that is known as “The Algorithm”. And this is Dark Magic indeed. No one knows exactly what makes it tick, what works, what doesn’t. Though, like with any sorcery, there are many, many theories running amuck.

The argument for the algorithm is that Instagram is attempting to find the best audience for your posts. It can be argued that they are giving preference to large accounts. I can’t disagree with that, but neither can I prove it. Even if it is, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for smaller accounts. You just have to have a targeted approach to your account.

I don’t have the answers. But I have done a little bit of research, and in doing my good deed for the Internet world, I thought I would share my findings. Please remember, these are simply my own experiences and observations.

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First, in order to beat the algorithm you must calculate the hidden mass of your…… HA! Just kidding!

First, consistency. Instagram is a stickler for consistency. There are a lot of articles telling you that you have to post the same day and time or else you’ll get thrown into Internet jail or worse: LOW PERFORMANCE!!! There’s some truth to this, although it isn’t quite so dramatic as some lead you to believe. Yes, consistency matters. If you post at different times every day, you may struggle to get the performance your post deserves. But, if you post normally around 9am daily, and you don’t post until 10am one day, you probably won’t see too much of a difference.

I have learned that if you want to ‘reset’ your algorithm, not posting for a day or two will usually work. I’ve done that when I couldn’t get my posts over a certain threshold. I waited a day between posts, and the next time I posted, it immediately performed better. In the meantime, I posted on my stories (we’ll get to those later) and still liked, commented and interacted with people on Instagram. This all matters.

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If you really want to get nerdy about it, there are actual performance data on business accounts that tell you when your followers are most active. This is true, business accounts do provide more insight than personal accounts. These algorithm articles will urge you to change to a business account so that you get this data. But is this necessary?

I have one personal account where I post the majority of my content, along with two business accounts; one for my dogs (yes, I know, it’s ridiculous but also awesome and we love it) with 200 followers and one for my Etsy shop with around 250 followers. It’s difficult to say which performs better. My two business accounts get anywhere from 50-100 likes per photo. I don’t post consistently to them. But one is dogs with books, mostly in pajamas and costumes, so I feel like that’s a winner on it’s own. And one is mainly tagging Harry Potter hashtags and dragon lovers. Again, fairly popular tags.

My personal account has gone up and down with performance. Lately, I find that I do get around 100 likes per post. I post daily, fairly consistently. So it would seem that while my business accounts are smaller, they get nearly the same activity. Of course, if I posted on my personal account with the same tags, it could be that they would do better. Difficult to say.

One thing I can say, is that the insights are interesting if you enjoy interpreting data. But it is very basic data. Most followers are active between 9am – 7pm daily. It goes up and down according to the day on which hour, but if you follow the consistency rule, the variation between activity per hour shouldn’t impact your post too dramatically. The rest of the data such as gender and location are interesting, but unless you’re an actual business with targeted demographic needs for your product line, I don’t find them that useful to the overall realm of social media.

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Frankly, who knows?! I mean, if you are into data and analytics. By all means, upgrade to business and enjoy the analysis. But, if not, my advice is simply this: test posting at various times. Try the morning for a week and see how they do. Then post in the afternoon or evening. Whenever you change, do it for a week to allow Instagram to adjust to your new times. Find your happy place. The most important thing with posting, is that you reply to comments.

So here we get to the good stuff.

Posting times and business accounts aside. Account interaction is key. So, find a time to post, that performs well, where you can comment and reply to people on your post.

I’ve read that if your post get comments and likes of a certain amount (who knows the sorcery behind this? NO ONE!) Instagram will release your post or boost it to more followers. I have no idea if this is true. What I can tell you, is that since I joined not just one, but two algorithm groups, my performance per post is improving.

HOWEVER

If you join a group with the sole intention of just boosting your posts and your algorithm, I think you’ll end up frustrated, disgusted, and overall unhappy. These groups help, yes. But, they are also a commitment of time and energy. Make sure the group you are in jives with you. If you have to comment on sultry romance posts and you’re a solid dystopian girl, you may find yourself struggling to comment on every post, every day, sometimes multiple times a day. So make sure you find your people!

The one thing I have found, is that commenting and interacting with accounts, even outside my groups is helping. Because you form friendships with people. The more you message with people, comment, watch their stories, mystery of all magic their posts show up on my feed more, and vice versa.

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Okay, so this isn’t sorcery as much as common sense. But it’s important. Like life, social media is what you make it. And you get what you put into it.

If you want to grow your account, and you don’t want to buy followers or use bots, you need to form genuine connections. Yes, these take time. But they also make it worth the experience. You’ll find accounts and people behind them who are interested in you, and you in them. This will lead to others, and so momentum is built.

The more genuine you are with your account, your captions, your comments and replies, the more your account will grow. That much I have seen not just through my accounts, but others as well.

Post to your stories. I know, I know. When they first came out everyone complained. It’s too much! But your stories are a way to show a different side to you versus your beautifully themed feed. Let them see your sense of humor, your quirkiness. This is where you can be a bit messy. It disappears in a day! Find a way to let your personality shine through and you’ll find people respond.

I use ridiculous Snapchat filters. It makes me happy. And it makes me even happier when people message me that my dancing reindeer post made them laugh, or that my dancing pickle video brightened their day. It’s silly. But it’s fun. Sometimes I do unboxings. Sometimes I talk about serious stuff. Sometimes it’s dancing pickles.

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Beyond letting people get to know you through your stories, they carry, say it with me now: ALGORITHM INFLUENCE!!! I don’t know if they have their own algorithm, or they influence your feeds algorithm, or if it’s a combination. Seriously, who has time to track all this? But, the more people see your bright shiny username and profile pic at the top of their screens, the more they’re likely to watch and go to your feed.

Some thoughts on stories. Be aware of your audience. If you use Instagram for friends, that’s one thing. If you’re attempting to be an Influencer, or are using this platform to promote products, even while being yourself: be professional. There’s a balance there. Find it.

That’s a lot, and probably nothing you haven’t already read before. I don’t have any tricks other than simply being sincere, find your happy place, make genuine connections and be consistent. The rest will come.

I will talk more about shadow banning, hashtags and more in another post, so stay tuned!

#PBHOWLERFEST

Today, my goodmen, today was GLORIOUS!!!!! In full nerd fashion, I embarked on a journey. A journey many months in the making, and surprisingly, not entirely about the event itself.

 

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Let me back up. Of course, the event was the entire gorydamn point. I’ve been waiting for Iron Gold for what feels like an eternity. And honestly, I probably would have simply waited for the release like any other Introvert book nerd and watched all this amazingness from afar. Except, a good friend called me, and said, “Come with me?”

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And I said YES!

So, a journey was planned. It involved matching shirts. I dyed my hair. I tried to get her to agree to matching tattoos. Spoiler: she said NO! However, she did agree to temporary tattoos as a compromise.

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But let’s get to the juicy gossip.

The event was amazing. I know that adjective gets thrown around a lot. By me. But, it was. When you walked in, they had large prints of all the fan art from around the world, and in our packet was a voting ticket.

Here’s a few for your perusal……

Once you voted, you entered the theater itself.

We also received a packet at the door, with the voting ticket and shirt ticket (if you ordered ahead of time). Our badges were Color coded and assigned us to our Color. I got Obsidian. Apparently even in this fandom, the Fandom Gods want to make me the trained killer. Weird. At least I’m not the bloodydamn villain again.

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Next to the shirt display, they had a small bookshop set up with BookSoup, featuring books Pierce himself loves. Of course I bought one or two, but you’ll have to go watch my Instagram stories in the next few days to see those goodies!

There was a bar, serving PitVipers for those daring Helldivers, and Haemanthus (mocktail) for the dreamers of the group.

Finally, there was an airbrush artist there to make sure we all had the appropriate sigils for our Color.

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And then the real fun began! Pierce came on stage, accompanied by his close friend and actor, Eric Christian Olsen. The interview was incredible to listen to on SO MANY LEVELS!

As a fan, it is always so fun to listen to an author talk about the world from their perspective. Who they see themselves in, who they had fun writing, who they hate. It’s fascinating to hear them describe the world that you, as a reader, are so immersed in. To hear the creator of that world dive into some of the rationale behind characters, plot twists, and world building is always good nerd fun!

Beyond the discussion of the world, Pierce himself is so kind and generous with his fans. He made sure to really reflect on his answers, and took his time thinking them through. His answers to questions ranged from funny, to snarky, or vague to very detailed, depending on the question. You can tell he enjoys interacting with his fans as much as we enjoy intreating with him. So much so, that he is involved in the Facebook group, Hic Sunt Leones: A Red Rising Fan Group, knows who the admins of the group are, and called up the MOST AMAZING COSPLAY EVER!!!!!

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As a writer, I LOVED EVERY SINGLE MOMENT OF THIS! Not just the cosplay, although, talk about #writergoals! When he talked about his life as a writer, I was so grateful I went to this event. To hear that an author you look up to, for his incredible writing style and fantastic plotting, doesn’t outline, or take notes. That he also can face writer envy of writers he considers the greats. That he can be a harsh critic of himself or his writing.

I need to remember that novels don’t happen in a moment, they happen in a series of moments. They take time, and then they take a team of people to make them the wonderful pieces of magic we lose ourselves in. I simply have to be as true to myself and to my story as I can be. I tend to forget that.

He also talked about telling his editor that Golden Son had a moderately happy ending and getting a literal WTF text when he faced the horror of the ending that traumatized us all. Or how he had the most fun writing the Jackal, and holds an appreciation for villains. I am a big believer that villains could use a little more love!

If you doubt the sincerity of his appreciation of his fans and readers, just look at that dedication! FOR THE HOWLERS!!!!

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Of course, the afternoon ended when we got called up (by Color) to take a photo with him. Again, he asked everyone’s name, shook their hand or hugged them, and truly made each person feel seen and heard. That is an incredible skill.

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The part of the journey that wasn’t the event, was simply going. Meeting Trissina in person after talking for nearly a year was awesome, but also daunting! Hi, my name is Jena, and I’m an Internet Introvert. And, there’s something intimidating about meeting someone you’ve tried to aspire your own writing to. Not that I was worried about how he would be, more, it’s just scary to open myself up for judgement. I never said introverting logic made much sense.

Anyway, driving to LA and being away from all my puppies and my books was hard. Oh, and my husband, I miss him too. Meeting new people in an intense environment is also daunting for me. But, I am so glad I did it!

The journey is about meeting authors and listening to them talk. Taking in their advice, knowing that even the greats have bad first drafts, and realizing that the glory is in the attempt. Nothing is made from nothing, but something can be made from something.

Meeting Internet friends in real life is the business! It’s fantastic that there is an entire community of book people in this virtual world. But, to take those friendships and conversations and hug them, and talk to them? Words just don’t quite capture how incredible that feels.

In all, I’m glad that I didn’t have to go to Mordor or face the Eye of Sauron. Perhaps my journey wasn’t quite as epic as Frodo’s. But it was mine, and I feel like I’ve grown for it.

The book comes out in three days, January 16, but we got the book 3 days early for attending! Was it worth it? You’re gorydamn right it was, my goodmen!

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Good night Howlers! Per Aspera Ad Astra!!!

Golden Son – Review

First, my goodmen, let me begin by saying: if you haven’t read Red Rising, please stop and go read the bloodydamn book! There will be spoilers for Red Rising in this review. It can’t be helped. Don’t be a Pixie and cry about it. Just read the gory book.

“Once upon a time, a man came from the sky and killed my wife.”

If you thought perhaps Pierce Brown was going to ease up on his writing in the second book, you must not have been paying attention. The first sentence packs the first punch that continues relentlessly throughout the entire novel. To read Golden Son is to enter into the chaos of war.

In Red Rising we learn through the Institute, who the Golds truly are, and why they rule. In Golden Son, Darrow must not simply know the lessons, he must execute them. He can no longer play at being a Gold, instead he must become one. Except that is a tough thing to do. How can he become the very thing he means to destroy?

The political intrigue and depiction of sociology in this society deepens in Golden Son. In the Institute, we were children with them. We understood the make up of society and the burden of ruling mostly through theory, through observation, through history. Slowly, those views were dismantled as tests were presented and overcome to highlight how heavy this burden truly is.

But, the weight of war, the weight of rule, the weight of controlling an entire society cannot be felt in practice. They cannot be held in theory. And even though the lessons were cold, and cruel, and often deadly, you cannot know war until you are in it. You cannot feel the weight of loss, of sacrifice, of the greater good, until you watch your friends die, and watch cities crumble.

“Sevro cannot watch. I go stand beside him. “I was wrong about war,” he says.”

The larger examination of war and power are both present and viciously strong in Golden Son. But what I find particularly interesting in this book, is the inner struggle of Darrow. I really like Darrow as a character because he is so fascinating. He isn’t a hero, not really. He had to be pushed, rather forcefully, into action, and even then, he struggles with how he can proceed. Beyond that though, I really like how he often falls for his facade. At times he falls in love with the idea of glory and grandeur. He has to remind himself who he truly is.

“I hate how my body shivers at the idea of glory. There’s something deep in man that hungers for this. But I think it weakness, not strength, to abandon decency for that strange darker spirit.”

He is aware of how alluring the trap is. He fights it, and it grounds him. I like that complexity. Often we get the trope of the chosen one, or the main character as the single driver of the rebellion or change. And while Darrow is in some ways the chosen one and the driver of change, he also isn’t. He is a tool in that change, and relies on others. And I really like that added dimension to him. You don’t necessarily root for him as you do his side.

Beyond the struggle Darrow faces within the man he wants to be versus the man he is, the dialogue of friendship, love and trust are woven into every page. Darrow holds himself back, a piece of himself from every relationship he has. He doesn’t have a choice. Or he believes he doesn’t. And it is this distance that sows seeds of mistrust all around him. I find it interesting that everyone around him picks up on this secret to some degree, and it holds him back from being the man and leader he wants to be. It erodes the trust and friendships and open the door for betrayal.

“Friendships take minutes to make, moments to break, years to repair.”

Once again, it is these side characters that make this story deeper and richer in its telling. Each new character introduced offers another look at Darrow and who he is. Who he chooses to let in, and who he holds at arms length. Their choices also reflect not just the Society that created and raised them, but at how they view themselves in both the eye of that Society and in Darrow as their friend and leader.

While betrayal and treachery run rampant, I find it interesting that these things occur because of Darrow himself. His secrets, his inability to face the man he is, Color aside, raise some instinct in those around him. He feels like a failure when faced with these betrayals, but doesn’t understand that it isn’t in his failure as a leader, but as a friend. He asks people to fight for a greater good, for a noble cause, but isn’t noble himself in that sense. And in the end, this single flaw may be his undoing.

“I would have died for you a thousand times more, because you were my friend.”

Every page in this book is filled with intensity. The pace the book is written matches the turmoil Darrow must feel. He is at war within himself and is sowing the seeds of war all around him. Life and death weigh heavily on his mind daily. For to fail isn’t just shame. It will be his death, and maybe the death of those around him.

Brown raised the stakes in Darrow’s world and continues to expose us to the cold, brutal terror of this world. We see just how far Golds are willing to hold onto power. How much power means to them. We see the struggle of rebellion and the perils of leadership.

If Red Rising was intense, expect to be left broken by the end of Golden Son. It is a book that leaves you bruised and bloody, with a cliffhanger that will make you cry in agony. Luckily, the last book in the trilogy is out, so go, my goodmen, go and finish this exquisite bloodydamn series!

The Hazelwood – Review

“My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.”

The Hazel Wood is a remarkable creative blend of urban fantasy and twisted fairy tales with a touch of mystery added for flavor. This combination is incredibly creative and takes you deep into not just a fairy tale, or it’s retelling, but something far better.

We begin this tale through the eyes of Alice, a teenager who has spent most of her life running with her mother. What they’re running from is less clear, and only really referred to as bad luck.

“When we traveled I kept an eagle eye on the cars behind us, like bad luck could take human form and trail you like a minivan. But bad luck was sneakier than that. You couldn’t outsmart it, you could only move along when it had you in its sights.”

Alice, in true child form, becomes obsessed with her grandmother, a woman she’s never allowed to meet, and the book she wrote. Tales From The Hinterland thrust Althea into the light, but the book itself is rare, obscure and impossible to find. (Side note: I would adore this collection of fairy tales released, because oh how dark and delicious these tales would be!)

And this is where the mystery comes to light. Because in the beginning we get glimpses of this bad luck. We see Alice’s obsession with these tales and with her grandmother. Her life has the vague sparkle of something mystical lingering on the edges, but nothing defined. Is it simply Alice and her perceptions? Or is something else at play?

Whether it’s the bad luck finally catching up, or simply fate stepping in, forces conspire to drive Alice to the Hazel Wood, the mysterious estate her grandmother has hidden in. Alice finds herself learning all about these mysterious fairy tales and the woman who wrote them. More than she ever wanted to know. But once you fall down the rabbit hole, Alice learns the only way out is through. If the fairy tales will let her, that is.

“Most books’ power is in the abstract, but occasionally you’ll find one with very physical abilities.”

The first half of this novel is very much building the mystery. The mystery of the bad luck. The mystery of Althea herself and this elusive book of fairy tales. The mystery of Alice, her deep tendency to rage. The mystery of her mother and what she is so terrified of.

The mystery is what baits us. It sets the trap so that we are entangled into the core of the obsession with Alice. We feel her desire for knowledge. For something more. And once we are entwined, guaranteed to not be able to leave, the mysterious edges of what could be paranoia or fantasy begins to sharpen and reveal itself.

“Her final words had an extra resonance to them, a blur. Like they wore a mask to hide their true intentions.”

Beyond the world of murderous and violent fairy tales, this book is about so much more. I love how through this journey of fairy tales, this book really is a look at how to control your own story, to take back your voice and create your own narrative.

Alice runs because her mother tells her to. Because she is a child growing up, and children have no choice but to embark on the life their parents set out on. But when she is older, when forces plot to remove her mother from the equation, Alice has to figure out which path to set herself on. She has to decide where to go, and what to do.

A lifetime of warning from her mother, never talk to fans, never read the book, all culminate with a final warning: stay away from the Hazel Wood. Within hours she betrays the first rule, turning to fan Ellery Fitch for help. And while the book remains as elusive as ever, Fitch once owned a copy and could retell the stories with chilling accuracy.

Alice decides that even though her mother warned her, action is the only way forward. That she is the only one who can reclaim her story, who can face the bad luck and vanquish it.

“I did it because a girl doing nothing in a fairy tale ends up dead or worse, but a girl who makes a decision usually gets rewarded.”

Sometimes as children we can feel voiceless. We can feel lost in a world we don’t understand. Where our parents make rules that feel arbitrary and unclear. And while most of us don’t wake up to find our mothers missing and our world a blur between fantasy and reality, often we do find that we understand our parents only by defying them. We see their rationale and reason only after we make the mistakes they attempt to protect us from.

Fairy tales are told to teach us lessons. To help us understand the world at large in a way that will stay with us. This book does the same. It helps us understand the helplessness we feel as both children and as parents. How being an adult can sometimes lead to a reality less than we once imagined. It teaches us that we each have a voice of our own, and can choose to use it, even if someone more powerful tells us we can’t.

I loved this book for the dark and twisted path it led me down. But I loved it even more for the empowerment it quietly taught me.

Thank you NetGalley and Flatiron Books for approving my request to read and review this book!

Red Rising – Review

“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.”

Anyone who has known me at all, for any time, during the last two years, has probably had me try and push this book on them. I mean, it’s pretty bloodydamn amazing. As I’ve pushed it and raved about it and wanted to get ready for the new release of Iron Gold, a quiet part of me wondered, would my love of this series survive a reread?

Yes, my goodmen, it gorywell can!

For those of you who may not know the story of Darrow, Red Rising is the first in a trilogy. And be warned, this series will not be for everyone. It is violent, brutally so. This book is a fascinating and in-depth look at the complexity of power in society.

Darrow is a Red. Born in the mines underground on Mars, mining an element that will make terraforming planets possible. They are told they will be heroes when they mine enough. Saviors of mankind. They work on the promise of a better life for their children.

But that promise is a lie. Built by the Golds.

Darrow soon learns of this betrayal and his rage drives him to do the impossible. Become his enemy.

Through Darrow’s eyes, we learn of the enormity of the lies he had been raised on. We learn of the vast caste of Colors, all playing a role in maintaining a society that thrives. Golds at the top, and everyone else serving beneath them.

But we also learn that there is a reason the Golds rule. They are cold and cruel. Willing to inflict pain for the greater good. Willing to do what is necessary to retain their power.

“Gods don’t come down in life to mete out justice. The powerful do it. That’s what they are teaching us, not only the pain in gaining power, but the desperation that comes with not having it, the desperation that comes when you are not a Gold.”

There is so much to rave about in this series! SO MUCH!

The examination of power within a society is fascinating in this book. Not just in the caste system and the way it’s laid out. But even the level of power an individual has within each caste. Not every Red is created equal. Not every Gold is created equal. Each Color has it’s own positioning, with appropriate benefits or punishments to be doled out as the leaders see fit. This book really does an excellent job of showing how precarious power can be, and how ruthless people have to be to secure it.

“Security and justice aren’t given. They are made by the strong.”

If Game of Thrones upset you over an author willing to kill his darlings, be prepared, because Pierce Brown drinks the tears of his readers for breakfast and laughs. Except it isn’t just the fact that he willingly kills off characters. It’s that he writes such amazing side characters, with such depth, and gives them such vibrancy, that it doesn’t take very long before you’ve become attached. It’s actually quite a skill to create these personalities in his characters that manage to find their way into your hearts so quickly.

Brown’s ability to write this diverse and vivid cast of characters is impressive. If your favorites manage to stay alive, and that’s a big if, you’ll find that even though this book is told in the first person entirely through Darrow’s perspective, Darrow isn’t the only character you root for. I dare you not to fall for our favorite little goblin or the giant teddy bear of a warrior! I DARE YOU!

“If violence is the Gold sport, manipulation is their art form.”

The level of manipulation and betrayal in the Gold caste is breathtaking. Characters you root for, you find yourself cursing. Alliances change lightening fast. Power a tricky and slippery thing. Again, this look at how power works is stunning. How it is elusive, and even individuals in a group considered Gods among men can still fall. Or be powerless.

Brown doesn’t write drastic black and white characters, with allegiances firmly in the good or bad camps. Instead we get something closer to reality, both present day and historically. We see political machinations working underneath processes thought free of them. We get to pull back the curtain to see how leadership is often taken, rarely actually earned. This harsh reality can make for uncomfortable reading because these characters don’t follow normal tropes or formulas. Like Darrow, Brown sees the game and rips it apart.

“An empire cannot be destroyed from without till it is destroyed from within.”

I happen to like books where you might like the villain as much as the hero. Where the hero makes mistakes and isn’t perfect. Where the villain may be evil, but also holds grains of good. People are rarely all good, or all bad. They are generally made up of a million shades of both and everything in between. Brown writes his entire universe in that spectrum and it makes for an intense, bloody, and breathtaking ride.

The first time I read this, I inhaled the words. This book felt like a campaign of shock and awe. It was stunning in scope and awesome in detail. I wasn’t sure what the ride would be like a second time. Turns out, it was just as intense, but somehow, knowing what was to come made the book even more heartbreaking. I was able to really understand how fast these characters are introduced and how strongly they make an impact.

I am a huge book pusher when it comes to this series. It is unlike anything you’ve ever read. It is about power. Love. Loss. Revolution. Rebellion. Rising up and falling down. It is bloody, violent, harsh and cruel. It will show you the best of humanity and the worst. Sometimes in the same breath. And it all happens in bleeding space!

Bring it on Golden Son, because here I come!

Hinder – Review + GIVEAWAY

HINDER

Ethan Sutcliff seems like a normal seventeen-year-old—at least that’s what he’s trying to portray. In a secret society run by the Supernaturals, Ethan is what witches call a Bender. Benders are Witches’ Guardians, who are able to control a witches’ ability, bend it, or move it away from harming humans. In Ethan’s case, he is able to bend the Earth element. But at the age of fifteen, he lost all connection to it, and the reasons behind it could only mean one of two things: His Wielder is either dead, or hiding out somewhere.

Alex Burgendorf has been living in her aunt’s locket for the past sixteen years with her mother—a Fire Wielder, and her father—a Water Wielder. For sixteen years, her parents vowed to protect her, and they have, as she is the last Earth wielding witch. However, time is running out. Alex must find her Bender, or the fate of the Supernaturals might be at stake.

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Hinder is a very creative take on the supernatural world. Benders rely on their compatible Wielder to give them the power for the element they are meant to control. Ethan, being a rare Earth Bender, is hunted from a young age because of it. When he loses his abilities, everyone assumes his Wielder is dead.

Alex has been hidden in a magical locket for years. Her parents know that being an Earth Wielder is a dangerous fate and would do anything to protect her. But it is time to reconnect her with her Bender so they can learn to control their powers together.

When they finally meet, albeit under a powerful glamour hiding Alex’s true identity, they immediately feel the pull between them. They have to resist or risk one destroying the other.

As if High School isn’t enough, or fighting your own teenage impulses, Alex and Ethan have to figure all that out while fighting for their lives. Oh, and the fate of the Supernatural world.

Fans of paranormal romance will enjoy this unique supernatural novel.

Thank you Rockstar Book Tours for including me on this tour and sending me a copy to read and review! Make sure to take a look at the rest of the tour (listed below) and check out the AMAZING giveaway!!! Also, stop by Rockstar Book Tours website for past tours and to see what’s coming up! Link HERE or click the banner at the top of this post!

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Title: HINDER

Author: Kristin Ping

Pub. Date: May 15, 2018

Publisher: Fire Quill Publishing

Pages: 443

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Find it: GoodreadsAmazonB&NiBooksKoboGoogle Play Books

 

Kristin

 

Kristin resides in South Africa with her husband, two beautiful girls and two bulldogs that tries to eat her house. She has been writing for the past eight years and her first debut novel, Hinder: A Bender’s novel will be published 2018 by Fire Quill Publishing. When she isn’t writing, she is spending her time with her family, or trying to teach her two bulldogs to not eat her house.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

 

AND NOW FOR A

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Want to win a Mac. Every two to three months, Kristin Ping is giving away a mac, all you have to do is subscribe to her newsletter, confirm to the confirmation email that will either be in your inbox or spam, and open the letter. Find the secret facebook group, join and enter the giveaway. It’s as easy as that. We even give you extra entries by inviting your friends to subscribe too. We already gave away the first laptop.

There are two ways to do this.

OPTION 1:

CLICK HERE and fill out the Google Doc!

OPTION 2:

Go to: http://www.authorkristinping.com and wait for the POP UP to subscribe! (Don’t forget to subscribe)

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Crows of Winter Pre Order Prize

PRE-ORDER HINDER FOR JUST $0.99! Yes, you’ve heard right! There’s a pre-order special for only $0.99. For the first month, Hinder will be only $2.99, as part of a release month blitz. After that, it will increase to it’s normal price of $4.99. So this is a major deal to get this fantastic pre-order price of just $0.99. GRAB YOUR COPY NOW AND CLAIM YOUR GIFT: CROWS OF WINTER.

CROWS OF WINTER is a bundle of three stories. Two of them were exclusively written for Hinder Pre-Order drive. They will not be available for purchase.

CROWS OF WINTER includes Lucian’s Ascension, written by Adrienne Woods; Venom, a Novelette also by Adrienne Woods; and introductory short story to Guardian of Monsters, written by Kristin Ping.

Be sure to click the link below and fill out the form in order to claim your free gift:

http://www.subscribepage.com/u4n4w1

Tour Schedule:

Week One:

1/1/2018- Book-o-Craze – Review

1/2/2018- Darque Dreamer Reads– Review

1/3/2018- Adventures Thru Wonderland– Review

1/4/2018- Jena Brown Writes– Review

1/5/2018- Book Huntress’ World– Review

Week Two:

1/8/2018- Books and Ladders– Review

1/9/2018- Fire and Ice– Review

1/10/2018- Jrsbookreviews– Review

1/11/2018- The Inked In Book Blog– Review

1/12/2018- A Gingerly Review– Review

Week Three:

1/15/2018- Hooked To Books– Excerpt

1/16/2018- Pervy Ladies Books Review

1/17/2018- books are love– Review

1/18/2018- Literary Musings– Excerpt

1/19/2018- Hauntedbybooks13– Review

Week Four:

1/22/2018- A Reader’s Life– Review

1/23/2018- Wishful Endings– Excerpt

1/24/2018- SimplyAllyTea– Review

1/25/2018- Dani Reviews Things– Review

1/26/2018- A Dream Within A Dream– Excerpt

Week Five:

1/29/2018- Blushing Bibliophile– Review

1/30/2018- BookHounds YA– Review

1/31/2018- Abooktropolis– Review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gunslinger Girl – Review

“She should have seen it coming. Six months and she’d be lawfully released from his control. But he couldn’t let that happen easy, not him.”

From the very first moment I saw photos of this gorgeous book being released at BookCon, I knew I had to have this book. A dystopian with a Western twist? For fans of Westworld?! Katniss Everdeen meets Annie Oakley??? Um, YES PLEASE!!!

I was thrilled when I opened a package and saw that my request had been approved and have been hugging this book EVER SINCE!

Serendipity Jones is a sharp shooter. She’s the best in her commune, but that doesn’t matter. She was born the wrong gender. A woman with the potential to be fertile is more valuable than a woman who can shoot. But she has plans. Plans to leave, plans to escape to the Capital. Unfortunately, her father also has plans. And they don’t involve her freedom.

When her best friend offers her the chance to escape before her father can sell her, Pity jumps at the chance. But the world outside of the gates of the communes is deadly, and Pity quickly finds herself a prisoner headed to the lawless city of Cessation, the last bastion of freedom standing against the oppressive forces of CONA, the Confederacy of North America.

“Is this a city, she thought, or an asylum?”

Now she has something resembling freedom being offered to her by the city’s leader, the beautiful and lethal Selene, but there is a price. With little options in front of her, Pity accepts and tries to navigate the treacherous path that she finds herself on.

This book is incredible! Pity is such a delightful protagonist. This is YA that sucks you in from the very beginning and doesn’t let go. I love when characters are so real you feel like you could know them. Pity is strong and determined, but she is also a little unsure of the path before her. She makes mistakes, some with horrific consequences that haunt her and make her doubt herself. I enjoyed reading her journey on that path to self-discovery.

“The low burn of anger that had been coursing through her exploded suddenly, fury hot and vicious cold at the same time, and tinged with guilt.”

This guilt and sureness over who she wants to be, combined with the battle of hesitation and unsurety over whether she actually could be that person made Pity so heart-achingly good. I like a character who has to face the idea versus the reality of their inner selves, especially when outside forces raise the bar on the consequences of that struggle.

Beyond Pity, we get introduced to an array of diverse characters. Duchess, Luster, and Max are a few of my favorites, but even Selene and Halycon add to the complicated deliciousness of the world Pity finds herself in.

Clean was the first for that popped into Pity’s mind as his raptor’s gaze tracked them. Dangerous was the second.”

The vast cast of characters all give the world in Cessation a rich texture, with each character highlighting a distinct piece of that world. We get to see through the eyes of security and performers. People escaping lives in communes that are unthinkable. Each accepting their role with varying degrees of success and hiding from a past that haunts each one of them in it’s own way.

Each characters gives you the sense of what a real oasis this city can be, while simultaneously being a gilded prison. This dichotomy really drives home the idea that everything has a price. Especially freedom.

“What others did to secure themselves wasn’t for her to judge – not when their situations were dire enough to make her wonder what she might do in the same place.”

It isn’t just the world of Cessation or the colonies that we get to see, although the bigger world of CONA is something I suspect we’ll begin to see more of in future books. We know that this world is what we are left with after a Second Civil War. We know the rumors of the Capital, and then we learn the reality. At least, some of the reality. But the history of the War, and the reality of other communes are things only hinted at in this book.

I tend to like my dystopian worlds to be revealed to me slowly. The horror of the future our characters find themselves in showing itself in unexpected and surprising ways. Gunslinger Girl did not disappoint in this way. Just as we accept the world as it is, new details emerge that really stab you in the gut with the terrible reality of what the world really can be. And I love when authors give us a slow road into hell, bringing us deeper into the world with more revealed in each new book. It gives the world a rich texture that just can’t be accomplished all at once.

Gunslinger Girl is a unique new dystopian and I adored every moment of it. The characters are complex and fun. The world is intoxicating and horrifying. The writing is beautiful and brutal.

“When someone brought her a cup of ice water, she took it without a word. It slid down her throat and into her stomach like a blade.”

Lyndsay Ely has created something incredible with this book and has quickly made me a fan rabid for more. Her voice and imagination are both stunning and I cannot wait to see what she has in store for us next!

Thank you Little, Brown & Jimmy Patterson Books for sending me a copy to read and review!

Epiphany Jones – Review

“In Hollywood it’s not what you create that matters, it’s the image you portray.”

Before I start this review, I need to warn readers that this book has almost all the trigger warnings a book could have. It is dark, brutally so, and deals with very real but very horrifying issues like child sex trafficking, rape, abuse, and mental illness. These scenes, while not overly graphic in nature, are very realistic and chilling.

This review may also contain minor spoilers. I will avoid them as much as possible, but be warned, minor spoilers may find themselves below.

Epiphany Jones is a difficult book to describe. It feels strange to describe a book that so accurately explores grotesque topics as good. But for all its horror, it is a very good book. Grothaus balances the gut wrenching scenes with sharp dark humor, and the combination is both unsettling and entertaining.

Jerry, a unique unreliable narrator, struggles with mental illness. He is subject to hallucinations of a very visceral sort, believing that these people he sees are real at first. He also has a massive porn addiction. Of course, he’s been in therapy and these visions go away when he’s on medication. The problem is, he isn’t always on his medication. And it doesn’t really do anything for the porn problem.

“When you think something isn’t real you just don’t pay too much attention to it. But you sober up quickly when your imaginary friend stabs you with a spork.”

Unfortunately for Jerry, he finds himself off his meds and in the middle of the theft of a priceless Van Gogh. And he’s the main suspect. Which forces him into hiding with Epiphany Jones, a woman who hears the voice of God. She is his only chance at redemption.

But in order for Jerry to clear his name, he must solve the mystery of Epiphany and what she wants. And that takes him down a dark road into both of their pasts.

“I’m pretty sure Epiphany doesn’t have a three-strikes-and-you’re-out rule. It’s gotta be two, at most. After that she probably kills you.”

At the beginning, we don’t know how or why Epiphany has chosen Jerry to help her find whatever she’s looking for. It is a very violent path that we go down unraveling the mystery behind Epiphany and, surprisingly, Jerry as well.

Their two histories are intertwined in ways that Jerry refuses to believe until the evidence is overwhelming and pieces of his long buried memory begins to surface. This truth forces Jerry to confront the demons of his past and decide who he wants to actually be moving forward.

“People in real life, when something bad happens, they don’t turn into action heroes or detectives, like they do in the movies. In real life you take the path of least resistance. You do the easiest thing that ensures your survival.”

Even though this book was published June 2017, the subject matter is hauntingly relevant, given news coming out of Hollywood lately. Grothaus has taken the shiny veneer of off what we believe Hollywood to be and taken us into the dark, black rumors that have been whispered about for decades.

It isn’t even raising the idea that Hollywood executives could take place in sex trafficking, of children no less. It’s the entire dirty underside of Hollywood. How people in power abuse their power. Whether it’s the publicist who gets a young woman to sleep with his son over promises of stardom, or succumbing to the whims of a Super Star who must be given whatever perverse pleasure they demand. There is a side to Hollywood carefully controlled and very well hidden.

“The people with the real power in Hollywood don’t need to be recognized. They make the celebrities. And they know each star is just a cog in the wheel. A brand. Each star will be replaced when the time comes.”

What makes this book so good, even though the subject matter is so difficult, is that you can’t help but feel the truth in his words. Sex and power always go hand in hand, and abuse of both always follows closely behind.

But what makes the book even more exceptional, is the accurate examination of trauma and how these deep, deep traumas that occur in childhood, scar and haunt their victims forever. Both Jerry and Epiphany experienced traumatic shocks when they were young. And the extent of that trauma shows in their adult lives.

These fissures in their mental health are clearly shown throughout the plot to be attributed to their experiences as children. Sometimes it’s easy as a society to rank someone’s trauma as better or worse than others. It would have been easy to do that. To show that Epiphany had far more reason to behave in the ways she did than Jerry had. Instead, we get their mental illnesses shown to us as separate and unique as their personalities.

Their experiences shaped them, molded them, and we are shown their pasts in a slow reveal. Grothaus takes us down dark roads and blind alleys, making us assume opinions of both characters. It’s only after opinions are formed that he shines the lights and opens doors to give us more truth and fill in the missing gaps. It is an exercise in empathy. It is an exercise in judgment. And it’s bloody brilliant writing.

“The guy who’s heart you broke when you cheated on him thinks you’re a manipulative bitch, but the homeless person you gave five dollars to thinks you’re a gift from God. The thing is, in a way, everyone is right.”

There is humanity dripping off of these pages, demanding that you open your eyes and look around. It’s easy to hide from these dark subjects, to turn and pretend that it doesn’t happen, that it couldn’t happen. But Hollywood is literally the business of turning humans into a commodity. All Grothaus does is ask us to examine the possibility of what that can truly mean.

This book won’t be for everyone. As I mentioned, there are some dark parts that are very difficult to read. But beyond those passages, this book is stunning in it’s black humor and keen insight. This is a book that will change you, and stay with you long after you close the cover.

Thank you Orenda Books for sending me a copy to read and review!