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!

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!

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!

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!

2017: A Year In Review

Reading challenge: 139/75

So back when I first began this blog, one of the challenges I wanted to do was set a goal in Goodreads, and then NOT CHANGE IT! I set my goal of 75 books based on how I did in 2016, and I ended up reading 139.

It felt strange to me after I hit the 75 goal mark to keep adding to my challenge without changing the number, but I did. Maybe it seems strange, but keeping the goal the same was a reminder of how different this year was compared to the last, and continued to remind me that it isn’t about the number, but about focusing on the reading itself.

Favorite reads by month:

There were some amazing books in 2017. And some not so amazing. I also reviewed a majority of the books I read, and that experience was better than I expected. Reviewing books changed the way I read. Rather than simply zoning out into the book, I became a more active reader. I payed attention to the things I was enjoying and the things I wasn’t. It made me notice writing techniques in a different way, and I think it made me not just a better reader, but a better writer as well.

This discovery was surprising, as I didn’t expect writing reviews to change the way or read or the way I write. It was a pleasant discovery. And while reading books I don’t enjoy wasn’t exactly a pleasurable experience, I also found value in completing those books. Again, it made me focus more on why I wasn’t enjoying it. Which helped make me aware of things to avoid in my own writing.

So whether I loved a book, or felt blah about a book, each one was an experience worth having. Here’s a breakdown of my favorite read by month, and some notables. I couldn’t just choose one!!! I’ve also linked each title to my review, if you’re interested.

January – 9 books read

How to Build a Girl

Notables: Girl on a Train, Tony & Susan

February – 6 books read

How To Murder Your Life

Notables: Red Queen

March – 6 books

Female Of The Species

Notables: All The Ugly & Wonderful Things, Carve The Mark

April – 11 books

Strange The Dreamer

Notables: Me Before You, Simon vs The Homosapien Agenda

May – 15 books

Six Stories

Notables: Follow Me Back, The Last Neanderthal, 10 Things I can See From Here

June – 15 books

Nyxia

Notables: Block 46, Lost Boy, Women No 17, Crowns of Croswold

July – 14 books

The People We Hate At The Wedding

Notables: Spoonbenders, Arena, The Address

August – 13 books

The Reminders

Notables: Fitness Junkie, Emma in the Night, Afterlife

September – 16 books

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Notables: The Salt Line, Good Me Bad Me, Mask of Shadows, Final Girls

October – 19 books

Hearts Invisible Furies

Notables: The Creswell Plot, Beneath the Trees, Blades Edge, Daughter 4254

November – 12 books read

Nevernight

Notables: Turtles All The Way Down, The Nine, Exquisite

December – 14 books read

Everless

Notables: Godsgrave, The Wife Between Us, Gunslinger Girl, The Wolves of Winter

The other reading challenge I signed up for was the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. This one I didn’t do so well at.

Of the 24 challenges, which range from “read a book about sports” to “read a book published by a micro press”, I completed 10 of those challenges. Which is disappointing, so I will be trying this one again in 2018.

It wasn’t listed in my goals, but I did sign up for a few other challenges throughout the year and several read-a-thons. They were a lot of fun and got me into different reading patterns.

2018 Goals

For 2018 I want to do several things with my reading.

First, I plan on doing another Goodreads challenge, which I will update once I’ve set it in stone.

Second, do another challenge like BookRiot’s, to add more diversity to my reading.

Third, read more of what is on my shelves, and only request what I really want to read. Mediocre books have taught me a lot, but they are also a chore to get through. I need less of that this year.

Fourth, review everything, even if it is a book just for me.

Of course, I will have other goals, namely in writing, and hope to get more writing posts into this space, but that will be another post in the New Year!

I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year!!! Tomorrow the entire year opens up to us, blank with enormous possibility. Let’s cheer each other on and make it the best one yet!!!

Green – Review

“It seemed like the smoke of those riots spread all across the continent, all the way to Boston.”

Green is a unique coming of age story, told from 12 year old David Greenfield, growing up in Boston in the early 90’s. The year Green focuses on for the entirety of the novel, is the year 92-93. We start when Dave is entering 6th grade, and the novel ends right before his 7th grade year begins.

The year is significant, because this school year is a milestone year for Dave. He has the only chance to take an entrance exam to get into Latin, a school that grooms students for college. The school is also notoriously a feeder school for Harvard. And Dave feels that Harvard is the answer to all of his problems. Or at least out of the ghetto he believes he and his family lives in.

Even more significantly, Dave feels very self-conscious attending King Middle School. He is one of a very small population of white kids, and he feels after the riots and Rodney King trial, that suddenly, his being white is more noticeable to his peers than before.

His first few weeks of school are exactly as he expects: being ignored, or hassled, feeling left out and left behind. His parents won’t buy him new shoes or stylish clothes. Even his quasi best friend ditches him for cooler friends. But life begins to look up when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him to a bully and their friendship begins to grow.

“It’s starting to hit me: Mar isn’t just my best friend, he’s my first. Up until now I had no idea just how lonely I’d been.”

I am on the fence with this book, and my review may contain some mild spoilers, though I will try and avoid them as much as possible.

This novel is based on the author’s own childhood and experiences. And, in that sense, I can’t argue. I can say, however, that I didn’t really connect with Dave and the style that it’s written is very distracting. Mostly, I’m referring to the language. So. Much. Slang.

Here’s the thing with slang. I get that kids use slang words. It’s that this is a book written from Dave’s perspective, solely in the first person. And I just don’t buy that a kid would talk this much slang, all the time, as the voice in his head. It didn’t feel natural or real to me. I’ve never met anyone who talks like this kid. Maybe they exist, maybe this really is how a kid would hear himself speak. I don’t know. But for me, it didn’t feel real.

It’s hard to say if the author chose to write that way to highlight the way Dave felt out of place and was trying so hard to fit in. Because the kid does try to fit in. He is ashamed of his own personality, or so it seems, and only wants to fit in with the cool kids. So perhaps the slang is simply really driving home how hard he tries and how awkward he really is. It certainly felt awkward reading, so I can see that angle.

I also have an issue with how his brother Benno is handled. We know that Benno has chosen not to speak for over a year. That he had an accident, where he cut himself, and since then has been under therapeutic care and attends a special school. Dave often resents the treatment Benno gets. One example is how Benno gets tater tots with meals, while Dave is forced to eat homegrown vegetables and rarely gets processed food. Benno often gets to stay home from school and has little rules dictating his behavior at home.

I find it odd that parents who are so invested in one child, would be so oblivious to the anxiety of their other child. I suppose it happens, parents often can make a healthy child feel overlooked in the face of a sick one, but they rarely even try to explain what’s going on with Benno when Dave tries to talk to them about his own struggles. Even worse, we never even get to understand or learn why or what Benno is going through.

But what really bothers me about the book the most, is that Dave doesn’t seem to learn any lessons at all. He complains, often and loudly, about no one having his back. Yet, he repeatedly lets his friends get beat up and picked on. Even when Mar spells this out to him, he can’t muster the courage to even speak up, let alone jump in to help. He acknowledges his fear, but never seems to comprehend that no one will defend him unless he starts defending either himself or others.

Dave is obviously a kid so desperate for attention and approval, that he is willing to sacrifice his friends feelings and needs if someone ‘better’ is around and offering either of those things. And he doesn’t seem to understand why his relationship with Mar changes after betrayal after betrayal occurs. He is oblivious. Which I would expect of a kid, but Mar is patient and explains his reactions multiple times. Dave just doesn’t want to settle for anything he perceives as less. Unfortunately, Mar falls into that less category too frequently to maintain a semblance of a friendship. And while Mar seems to realize this, Dave never sees his role in the distance.

“His head is tilted to the universe, but he looks more lonely than awed. Everyone else is smiling and pointing, and he’s just standing there, squinting, biting his upper lip.”

A good come of age novel should have an “aha” moment. A moment where the main characters realizes where he went wrong and attempts to fix it. Dave sort of has this moment at the end, a moment where he confronts his old best friend and tries to talk to Mar one last time. But it felt like very little, and far too late. And even then, I never got the sense that Dave really understood why Mar distanced himself from Dave.

This book is supposed to be about class and privilege. And while it’s clear to the reader that Dave is sort of spoiled and immature and very privileged, Dave himself never really seems to have his “aha” moment. He realizes he has made wrong choices in regards to his friendship with Mar, but it’s completely unclear by the end of the book whether he really understands how much easier his life is simply because of the color of his skin.

He feels a lot of resentment towards the other kids in his neighborhood because of the color of his skin, but he never seems to piece together that this resentment is because of his privilege not him. Maybe that realization is difficult for a sixth grader to comprehend, but since so much of this novel hinges on that dynamic, it’s hard to sympathize with a kid who feels picked on, and can identify racist behavior without understanding at least on some level that he lives a far different life than his peers. Especially when he visually sees the drastic differences in their living conditions and lives.

I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed without liking the main character. But, this is a tough one, because he is the story. And I just didn’t like him. Maybe I was meant to sympathize with him feeling ostracized and confused about who he is. But he just didn’t come across as likable. He needed more redeeming moments and to become aware of his privilege far earlier in the novel.

Thank you to the First To Read program for sending an early copy to read and review.

 

 

 

Everless – Review

“‘Time is for burning, girl.’

It’s a familiar expression in the village – why hoard time when every day is dully brutal, the same as the one before and the one that will come after? To hear it from a man who’s never known hunger or cold makes my fingers twitch toward a fist.”

Welcome to Sempera. A land where time is bound to a person’s blood. It can be taken out, turned into iron and is used as currency. The wealthy take it from the poor, tax it, use it to live lives hundreds of years long. While the poor are bled, literally bled dry, until their time runs out.

Jules Ember lives a quiet life with her father. They used to live in Everless, the estate of the Gerlings, a family so wealthy they are nearly royalty. Jules’ father was the blacksmith for them and her childhood was a happy one. Until an accident forces them to flee for their lives.

Now, her father is dying, his debts too large for the time he has remaining in his veins, and Jules knows that returning to Everless is the only chance she has to save him.

“I smile at him, wishing I could tell the truth – that the idea of returning to Everless sickens me and fills me with dread, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

But if Everless was dangerous before, it’s even more so now. And Jules quickly finds herself wrapped in temptation, deadly secrets, and violent consequences. Beneath all that terror, though, Jules finds she isn’t as powerless as she believed, and maybe she has the power to change the fate of time.

I seriously don’t know where to begin with this review. This book is amazing. One of the best I’ve read this year. The writing is simply gorgeous. If you are a fan of the beauty and lyrical prose of Laini Taylor, you will fall in love with Sara Holland’s writing.

“A strange feeling flowers in me, like I’m standing at the edge of a cliff, looking out to the green and blue sea, which I’ve only ever seen drawn in books, it’s waves sloshing and endless – and from this height, deadly.”

You will highlight passages simply for the beauty of the words written.

“That she prefers to travel at night is a message, tied up in brown paper, desperate to speak.”

Beyond the beautiful writing, the world building is stunning in it’s execution and epic in it’s scope. Holland has created this entire land, where blood is valuable. Time can be taken from or added to a life. And the detail in which she applies this currency is fantastic. You get a sense of the desperation of the poor, and the reckless luxury of the wealthy. How much more personal would wealth be if it was literally your life?

“My hand trembles as I take the coin – the pulse in my own fingers feels as if it’s coming from with the coin, all the life this little thing could give me. Give Papa.”

And Jules Ember. This girl will quickly become one of your favorite female protagonists! She is smart and bold, daring and brave. But she is also stubborn and makes plenty of mistakes along the way. But at her heart, she is good. She tries. And she is willing to make mistakes in order to keep her morals intact. She is willing to do what is right, not what is easy, and you will adore her for her moxie and her bravery.

There is some romance in this book, but like everything in these pages, it is not what you expect. And it isn’t the focal point. Which I loved. I loved that while Jules craved the connection and intimacy romance brings, she isn’t willing to give up her focus to chase it. She also doesn’t let it shape her or change her, she remains true to herself, which I LOVE!!! Especially in a YA! Girls can be strong and fierce and independent without a man helping her or taking the lead, and we definitely need more female leads NOT focused on romance. The romance may take a larger focus in future books, but I absolutely loved that it wasn’t the priority in this one. ESPECIALLY since she has her hands full as things are.

“All of these things are tied together in shifting and complicated ways, yet still nothing is clear.”

Oh the twists! Holland weaves a complicated spell in this world, where nothing is at it seems, even Jules own memories. The more Jules begins to understand what happened when she was a child, the more she learns about who she is, the more danger she finds herself in. Characters you thought you knew and understood change. The ending floored me! There are plenty of surprises packed within these pages.

In all, Everless is a stunning journey. I think it will easily be one of the best books of 2018. Sara Holland has made my auto buy author list, and I will be waiting anxiously for the sequel to be released.

Thank you to BookSparks for sending me an early copy to read and review!

The Vanishing Season – Review

“He’d locked up the monster but failed to notice: the monster had already won.”

Ellery Hathaway just wants to live a quiet life, in a quiet town, and be a good police officer. She’d prefer to keep her past in the past, and her secrets her own. But when people begin to go missing, one a year for the last three years, Ellery can’t quite shake the certainty that they’re connected.

The thing about Ellery, the thing no one knows, the thing that makes her so certain of these connections, even when all other law enforcement dismisses her, is that she once survived a serial killer. She was the only one to survive Francis Coben.

But admitting that would mean revealing secrets about herself that she’d do anything to keep hidden. Instead she turns to Agent Reed Markum, the FBI Agent who found and saved her against all odds. Together, they find themselves thrown into a terrifying past with a killer who is determined to finish what was started.

“Ellie wasn’t suicidal; she’d fought hard for her life and won. But sometimes, especially during the longest nights, she did wonder if maybe the other girls had been luckier after all.”

The Vanishing Season is an amazingly complex book. On the surface it reads like normal crime fiction, full of suspense and intrigue. But beneath the surface, this is also a book that explores what it means to survive, to save and be saved, and how to endure trauma that will never leave you.

The idea that our past defines us really is brought to life through both Ellie and Reed in different ways. For Ellie, she just wants to live her own life. She wants to be seen as a woman capable and strong on her own. The idea that people will see her differently if they know her past is a horrifying thought for her. Conversely, Reed carries the burden of being a savior. He was the only one to see the details that led to Ellie’s rescue and Coben’s conviction. But to walk into every investigation with that same expectation shining in the eyes of hopeful parents is a heavy weight to bear.

“Now he understood the attractiveness of alcohol: it coursed through your insides like a river over a rock, smoothing you out so you didn’t feel so damn much.”

Schaffhausen does a really good job casting just enough doubt on everyone in the book. While the killer seems obvious in hindsight, it wasn’t that obvious as you’re reading. I did have my suspicions from the beginning, but multiple other suspects gave my initial hunch just enough doubt that I wasn’t sure until the end. And this is good writing to me. I like solving the crime and picking up the bread crumbs authors leave behind. But I also enjoy being stumped and not reading something super obvious.

I also really enjoy anything with a psychological twist, so while Schaffhausen doesn’t delve too deeply into the psychology of the killer, there is a lot written into Ellie and Reed that makes their profiles and issues very interesting to me.

“People would gladly tell you who they were if you only cared to listen.”

The Vanishing Season is a very fast read. It’s written in a very compelling prose that pulls you into the novel, urging you to turn page after page. Suspicion is cast on every single character in the book, including Ellie and Reed, so you feel very uneasy as you read, as if the rug could be pulled from beneath you at any moment. Which felt very poetic to me, since that’s probably exactly how Ellie and Reed both felt. I love when an author can make me feel the same thing as the characters. It makes the reading a much richer experience.

For fans of crime fiction, suspense or thrillers, I think The Vanishing Season is a fantastic book choice. There isn’t much graphic violence, although there are some disturbing scenes. We are in the world of serial killers after all, you can’t completely escape the reality of violence in that landscape. But it isn’t graphic, and doesn’t go into vivid detail. This is definitely a novel playing on the psychology of horror rather than exposing you to the grotesqueness of the horror itself.

I am so thrilled this was the December book choice for the Instagram group Black Hearts Reads! Click their name to link to their Instagram page and join in! They choose amazing books and host a discussion at the end of the month. It’s a wonderful way to experience a book club without leaving your house! And the ladies who host are amazingly sweet. They also do a number of giveaways, so if you’re on Instagram, and especially if you’re part of the #bookstagram community, come join in!!!