#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!!!

A review: You Will Know Me

You Will Know MeYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was younger, I took dance classes. I started ballet when I was three, adding tap and jazz along the way. I participated in recitals and private lessons and even competed. The world of competitive dance was too much for me, and while I did love dancing, I did not love everything that came with it.

As I read, You Will Know Me, I was reminded of that world all over again.

Of course, I was not as focused or determined as Devon was. Nor were my parents as single mindedly dedicated to dancing as hers were. But to say that this book is solely about competitive gymnastics is doing it a disservice.

Yes, the plot is centered around the Knox family. Specifically Devon and her pursuit of making the Olympic Gymnastic team. However, at the heart of this book is an examination of parenthood and marriage. So much so, that we really see this entire world through the eyes of the mother, Katie.

Both being a parent, and being married are complicated endeavors.

Katie and Eric seem to have a solid marriage. One built on compromise and partnership. One where they both juggle to make sure their children’s needs are met. After all, training to become an Olympic athlete takes dedication, hard work and single minded focus. From the entire family.

We see how this pursuit unites them against the world. And then we see how it also threatens to unravel them. “It doesn’t matter whose dream it is,” she said, “Just that it’s a dream.”

An accident brought gymnastics into their lives. One where maybe guilt and a feeling of responsibility hold the family hostage to the pursuit of this dream. Another accident threatens to unravel everything they’ve worked towards.

The use of accident in this book is very interesting to me. The accident that sparked gymnastics to be brought into their lives. The accident that shakes their gymnastic community are the most obvious. But while Katie struggles to keep her family together, the memory of the pregnancy and how that was an accident comes up more than once. That accident not only brought Devon into creation, but also cemented her bond to Eric. Moved him to propose and marry her.

Which I think is important to the character of Katie. She never had a dream. Never had goals. Her life sort of happened to her, was thrust upon her in a series of accidents. Things she didn’t necessarily choose, yet she now struggles to desperately hold on to.

“Remember that kind of wanting? That kind that’s just for yourself? And you don’t even have to feel guilty about it?” “Katie nodded and nodded and nodded, because it felt true even if she couldn’t name the thing she’d wanted.”

She latches onto the dream of marriage, and then the dream of parenthood, and then the dream of Olympic champion. She pursues them and drives towards them, without ever thinking if she really wanted them to begin with. Without understanding what that type of wanting felt like.

That is what threatens Katie at the core. When events begin to unravel the core of her marriage, and threaten to come between her relationship with her daughter, it is not understanding that level of drive and commitment that is hardest for Katie. She cannot understand it, so she cannot understand the decisions made in blind pursuit of it.

“This is what fearlessness looks like, Katie thought. What desire can do.”

We get glimpses of Eric and Devon, of what they see and what they feel and what they want. But only through Katie’s eyes. We see that she sees them as the same, multiple times, a team united, where she has to fight to be let in. The irony is she often excludes her own son, Drew, in her fight to be seen by Devon and Eric. She has to remind herself that the Knox family is made up of four members, not three. She is jealous of their closeness but it also scares her. Fear of being left out, of being left behind, or being not included.

This book is listed as a murder mystery, and at the heart, we do unravel a mystery. But it is also unraveling the mystery or life. They mystery of parenthood. The mystery of marriage.

“Married a long time, you think there will never be any surprises again, at least not those kinds. But you are wrong.”

Megan Abbott shows us that we can hide the truth about those we are closest with. We can be blind to everything but what we want to see. As Katie plunges deeper to solving the murder, the hard truths about her daughter and her husband become almost too much to bear.

But parenting is ferocious, the love you feel for your child primal and urgent. It becomes a matter of protecting them, even if you don’t understand them. “After all, who wouldn’t do anything for one’s child? Especially when that child worked harder and wanted something more than either of them ever had? Who wanted in ways they’d long forgotten how to want or had never known at all?”

The ending to this book felt anticlimactic. We solve the mystery or the murder, but the rest remains unsolved, open and unsatisfying. Maybe that’s because we can solve problems. We can figure out who did a crime. But how do we answer the bigger questions of life? What makes a good marriage? What makes a good parent? When is a dream enough?

“She hadn’t learned, no one had taught her – Katie and Eric hadn’t taught her – that the things you want, you never get them. And if you do, they’re not what you thought they’d be. But you’d still do anything to keep them. Because you’d wanted them for so long.”

This book won’t give you answers to those questions, but it will make you think about them. What lengths would you go for to protect your child? To help them achieve everything they dream of? What would you endure with your spouse? How far would you go for love? What would you forgive?

The answers may surprise you.

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

View all my reviews

Follow Me Back – Review

We live in a social media world. For better or for worse.

There was a time, not so long ago, when sharing every aspect of your personal life would have been considered obnoxious and narcissistic. Who needs to know where I am or what I am eating every hour of the day? Those private details were shared in tabloid magazines about celebrities. Something we only wanted to know about celebrities.

I’m also sure, if you had asked most of the population back then, about whether people would one day all open themselves up to that level of public awareness, most would say no. Who could imagine a world like that?

Turns out, at least a few people did, and social media was born.

Take a society already obsessed with celebrity, and make everyone easily accessible. Or, at least give the impression of being easily accessible. How does that change us? What dangers does that bring? These are the questions raised in Follow Me Back.

“You wanted this, Eric. You worked your ass off to get discovered. Remember?” ∞ “I just didn’t totally understand what I was signing up for.”

When we dream of being famous, of living a life of luxury unimaginable to most, we tend to see the nice shiny pieces of that life. I’ve always been fascinated with how we idolize celebrities in our society. We mock them when they shut down a store to shop, yet if they try to walk down the street, we mob them. We ridicule their concerns for privacy yet pay for overpriced magazines to glimpse a picture of them on the beach, or in their backyards.  We expect them to be available to us all the time. To be the people we believe they are. Nevermind who they actually are.

Before social media, celebrities had their stalkers. They’ve always had obsessed fans, willing to do anything to get a napkin dropped, a fork used, a shirt forgotten. But in a world where information about location was slower, where you relied on physical sightings or inside sources, those fans were easier to predict. Easier to contain.

Now, all it takes is a tweet. 140 characters. An Instagram photo. A Facebook update. And within seconds, everyone in the world can access that information. Anyone can access that information.

Eric Thorn is a singer. Locked in a contract he didn’t understand, and is now beginning to hate. He has mobs of fans. Fans with Twitter handles like @MrsThorn or @TessaHeartsEric. Millions of girls dying to meet him, to profess their undying love for him. It’s exhilarating. It’s smothering. It’s terrifying.

There’s another side to social media. The side that allows us to experience life in a different way. To open ourselves up to new experiences and ideas. For some people, social media helps them feel not so alone. Helps them find people who they can connect with. Helps them enrich their lives in ways they would never dreamed.

That’s where Tessa Hart finds herself after a traumatic experience leaves her unable to leave her house. She finds her release in writing fanfic about her favorite pop star Eric Thorn. Following him and his fan accounts is a release for her. Her way of finding social interaction in her isolated world. When one of her stories goes viral, her follower count rockets up. The hashtag #ericthornobsessed trending to #1.

Tessa believes she sees something in Eric Thorn that others don’t. A fear that she relates to. Her therapist thinks she’s projecting. Is it possible to see something in a photo? In an online video? Is it possible to see something no one else sees? Or do we just see what we want?

A twist of fate intertwines Eric and Tessa. I could tell you more, but where would the fun in that be? Needless to say, you will not see the plot twists and turns until they happen.

This is a book where everything you think you know is wrong.

It isn’t just the plot twists that makes this novel compelling and insightful. It’s more an analysis about the role social media plays in our lives.

We follow people without thought. Sure, there are reasons. We like their books, their music, their art. Sometimes we even know them. But I’m also sure there are people we follow, people we are friends with, that we don’t really know.

Social media is a strange intimacy. People who are active on their accounts give us glimpses into their lives. It can feel like we know them. We see them in bed, walking down the street, at their tables. We see what they watch, what they read, what they listen to, what they eat, what they wear. It can feel like we know them as well as we know our closest friends.

To us, they are someone we know. Someone we feel genuine affection for. But to them, we are a fan. One follower in a sea of thousands. Perhaps even millions.

If they comment, or retweet, or like what we post, it’s a thrill! We feel a connection, a touch of intimacy that validates how we feel about them. And if they actually follow you back? Confirmation that somehow we made it on a radar of impossibility.

These strange intimacies are the world we live in. These private worlds that feel just as big and just as real as the one we breathe in.

Follow Me Back was a seamless glimpse at how social media and celebrity worship can create an alternate reality. We see how social media can be useful, even helpful but also harmful. There is a deep look at privacy and intimacy. This commentary is subtle and done skillfully. It takes a plot twist to bring this examination to light.

This book will make you take a step back and look at your own habits. Are you part of a fandom? Could there be a dark undertone lurking beneath the love and adoration? What about social media friendships? Can you ever really know who you are talking to?

As more apps are developed and more accounts are created, this is a conversation we all need to be having. What is the line between fandom and obsession? How much of our lives should be available and accessible?  How do you stay social while still protecting yourself?

It will make you think of social media and the role it can play with mental health. For some people, finding a group to talk to can be life-saving. Life-changing. But it can also be a Pandora’s box. An opening into a world of obsession and temptation that can easily spiral out of control.

Follow Me Back is a brilliant blend of Young Adult fiction wrapped in a psychological thriller. The plot is fast paced, each page demanding to be turned. I devoured this in a day. Yet you are still lulled into a state of complacency. Of believing you know what the end will be, in scope if not detail. Yet, the reality is so different, so unexpected.

If there’s one thing social media has taught us, sometimes what you see is not what you get. Sometimes a perfect and beautiful feed can hide something darker. Often, who we are is much different than who we want the world to see.

 

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

April wrap up

Half way through May, and I realized I hadn’t done an April wrap up. The horror!

The good news, I’ve managed to write a review for all the books I read, so YAY ME!!! If I didn’t post all the reviews on my blog, they are all on Goodreads. FIND ME HERE

Here’s a quick recap:

  • Crimes Against a Book Club – 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Ruby – 🌟🌟
  • Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda – 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • The Falconer – 🌟🌟🌟
  • Strange The Dreamer – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • My Life to Live – 🌟🌟🌟
  • The Rebellion’s Last Traitor – 🌟🌟🌟
  • New Boy – 🌟🌟🌟
  • Me Before You – 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Hunted – 🌟🌟

Strange the Dreamer is setting the bar pretty high for best read this year. Though, it’s still tied with Female of the Species. I hope to read a lot more books that make the competition fierce for the top spot!

Reading for review is a new process for me. I am finding that it is helping me with my own writing as it opens the critical part of my brain that I need to analyze and evaluate my own work. Reading a variety of books is also helpful.

I find that I tend to go for the same books and the same authors all the time. Expanding on what I read, introduces me to different voices and styles that I may have been missing before. It helps me look at my own work through new eyes.

Anyway, I’m going to keep this one short and sweet! Did you read any of the books I listed? Are any on your TBR? Leave a comment and let’s chat!

A review: Running Beyond Empty

Running Beyond EmptyRunning Beyond Empty by Ben Kruser

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From Amazon: Fun and entertaining, Running Beyond Empty explores the many challenges faced by mother and daughter when their world crumbles.

Dinah is suddenly jobless and forced to move in order to provide for herself and Selah, who is hurt, angry and confused. Face-to-face with life’s realities, their emotions are stretched by the new people and events in their lives. Both learn to stand up to obnoxious folks and find that their hard work helps them stay focused on their goals.

The empowerment of caring relationships carries Selah and Dinah through heartbreak and loss as they discover that running starts with believing in yourself. Ultimately their resiliency opens up new hopes and dreams — shared with Bill and Norm, the two special men in their lives.

Enriched by many colorful characters — Johnny Pancakes, Blackie, Patsy, Wawaneehi — the story of these two feisty women will capture your imagination.

This book started out promising. I liked the characters, it had an interesting premise, and was funny. I liked how the chapters were presented as miles in a marathon. That detail supported how the author used running and training to run as the driving force to the plot line.

But, the book just didn’t hit the target for me. The writing style was difficult to adjust to. It felt like the characters all rambled and gave speeches where they announced their thoughts and decisions and motivations. I could not hear realistic dialogue in most of the conversations.

The pacing was also off. I felt like characters made decisions that simply fit with the plot, rather than because that was what any reasonable person would do. Or, even, what any unreasonable person would do. They just didn’t feel genuine or realistic to me. Because the characters tend to talk a lot, and reveal everything while talking, I just didn’t feel that there was any mystery to the plot. When things unraveled, there was no aha! moment, or surprise to the events. If anything, I felt more frustrated at the lack of mystery. There was no compelling pull to keep reading.

Overall, this was a fast read, and did have it’s funny parts. It is a very sweet story, with a lot of emphasis on believing in yourself and the power of kindness.

I was given a copy of this book for an unbiased and honest review.

View all my reviews

Dominion: Sneak Peek & Review

Like a cold hand massaging my brain I feel Roman infiltrate further and all of a sudden, my eyes lose sight of the room.

I’m sitting at a small white table. The room is bare except for a clock above the door and a one-way glass window. Sitting at the table with me are three children.

“It’s us,” I whisper.

“Of course it is.” Roman’s voice sounds even closer than before, and even more drained. I look in the direction of his voice and see him sitting on the floor, his knees propped up, his hands clasped. His arms reach out, his wrists lazily resting on his knees. Something is different. He smiles. It’s soft. “Listen,” he says to me.

“This is so boring,” little Roy knocks down a 3D puzzle. “I’ve already put this stupid thing together five different ways.”

A pop crackles through the speaker overhead and a voice comes through. “That’s better than other people, Roy. Most adults can only assemble it one way. There are many who can’t put it together at all.”

I don’t recognize the voice, but I’m sure it’s Lobb. Or the other doctor that Reggie always talks about. Dryer.

“It’s still dumb.”

The voice trailed through the speaker again with an interruption in the feed. “Do you all need a break?”

“Yes, please,” the young Reggie speaks up politely.

At that, the door opens and the children, including myself, stand up and walk out. When we leave the room, a woman with a large set of white teeth grins at us. Her eyes are a dark coffee brown. Her hair, midnight russet and shining with gloss. I remember the lipstick. She always wore red lipstick the shade of strawberries. The smell of mint. She always smelled like mint.

Miss Mandy’s not much younger than I am. Well, my adult self. “Do you want recess time?” she asks.

My head nods involuntarily and I speak up. It’s a young voice. No accent. Innocent, but impatient. “Duh, Miss Mandy.” I smile.

The woman laughs and pats my head. “Come on, sweetie.”

She cares for me. Maybe all of us. I feel it. I remember it.

Miss Mandy leads us down a brightly polished white walkway. It’s wide. Simple. I can hear conversations happening in another room. Through another glass door is a small area of grass. Maybe the size of a fighting ring.

“Can you stay, Miss Mandy?” I ask.

She shakes her head, a shaking smile on her face. I remember wondering why she looked so sad. “I have to go back and help Ethan and Dr. Lobb. But I’ll bring you out some sandwiches when I’m finished. Have fun, Rans.”

I grin and run to join up with Roy and Roman. I can feel my desire to play with Reggie is lacking. She’s too serious and it bugs me. I almost want to smile at that thought. Not a lot has changed over the years we’ve been apart, I see.

“I really wish I could go home with Miss Mandy,” I say offhand to Roy. “She was telling me yesterday about her dog. His name’s Sergeant Pepper. Plus, she has a boyfriend named Quinn.”

“Why does that matter?” Roy lifts an eyebrow and kicks around a black and white ball. He splits into his duplicate and they both take turns kicking it back and forth before Roman slides in and kicks it away. Roy rushes over and steals the ball again, keeping it from Roman.

“Because they’re like a family. I just think that would be fun.”

“Family?” Roy Two bolts forward and kicks the ball directly back to Roy One, glaring at Roman who is looking more frustrated.

“We’re kind of a family, right?” Roman jumps in. “I mean, I’m your actual brother. I think that’s better.”

“It’s not the same,” I fold my arms.

“Just because we don’t have a fluffy dog?” Roy teases.

“Sergeant Pepper is a greyhound. So, he’s not fluffy, stupid.”

“Whatever,” he shrugs

Roman runs forward and steals the ball away, but for only a split second. Roy takes it back and kicks it back and forth between his duplicate. I can see the anger growing in Roman’s face, which is turning a brilliant shade of red. He’s going to start yelling soon.  

“Guys?” We all turn our heads at the sound of Reggie’s voice. She looks tired. Like she just had a vision.

“What, Weirdo?” Roy pants, picking up the ball and twisting away from Roman. His duplicate folds his arms.

She glances to the side and doesn’t answer. She is kind of a weirdo. “At least she’s not my sister,” I elbow Roy in the side.

“Reggie?” Roman narrows his eyes and walks toward her. “What is it?”

She looks up at him and if I’m right, I can see a flicker of hate in her eyes. “We can’t stay together.”

“What?” Roy laughs.

“They’re . . . they’re not telling us the truth.”

“Who?” I ask, feeling the annoyance of my younger self.

“Dr. Lobb. Dr. Dryer.” She continues to watch Roman carefully. The focus in their eyes tells me they’re communicating. I hate when they leave us out.

“She’s right,” he agrees.

I feel the images around me start to thin out and I look around. The walls of the underground bunker are bleeding through. Reggie and her small bed are hazy, but they faintly show through the fabric of this past reality. Roman is losing his grip on my mind. He can’t keep showing me the past. But it’s enough. I remember he’s controlling it. I have to get out.

Immediately, I swivel back and start sprinting for the fence. My feet beat against the grass, the air swirls in my long childhood hair, and using the full force of my small body, I break through the wood. Splinters shoot in every direction. The grass falls out beneath my feet and the air fragments into a million shards, all exploding out from around me.

My eyes burst open and I take a deep breath of the cold air of the bunker.

REVIEW:

Dominion is the fourth book and final book in The Enertia Trials series. It cannot be read as a stand alone.

I love dystopian novels. There’s something about imagining how the world progresses that is really interesting to me. How does a dysfunctional species move forward? Probably dysfunctionally.

In this future, the struggle is to maintain your humanity against a government that wants control and perfection. No matter the cost. I liked how the people created to emphasize this perfection are the ones who ultimately fight against it. I’ve always liked the idea that what we aim to control is usually what destroys us.

There are three books of build up, leading to this conclusion. Each book builds to not just the plot, but the world at large, making this a very complex story. Each character gets an added layer, so by the end, you are attached to them.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. You can really see the writing develop from one book to the next.

This is a fast paced, fun read, with a satisfying ending.

Grab your copy tomorrow!

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review by the author.

A review: Me Before You

Typical romance novels are not my jam. I can do without heaving bosoms and deep, meaningful stares. Bleh. And after falling for the 50 shades hype, I am highly skeptical of all hyped romance novels.

Part of my issue with the genre is all the sex. Not that I care about sex in a book. I don’t. I can get hot and bothered over a well placed sex scene like anyone. But, I don’t need half the book to be sex scenes. They get boring. I mean, let’s get real. There’s only so much heavy breathing and passionate throws a girl can take without massive eye rolling.

Romance also typically means: happily ever after.

I am a sucker for a tragic ending. Throw star-crossed in there, and I’m done for. Blame Shakespeare. I don’t crave happily ever after. Maybe it makes me an evil reader, but I like my fictional characters to earn their happy. Like the rest of us.

So I was wary to read Me Before You. To be fair, I did not learn much about the story. The only two plot points I knew were this: he is in a wheelchair and bumblebee tights.

This book probably would never have even crossed my radar if the movie didn’t come out. Finnick Odair and Daenerys Targaryen?! Falling in love?! Well, who wouldn’t want to see that? Ever wondered how TBR piles get out of control? This is how.

Skepticism in hand, I sat down to read. Words of warning trickled through my brain. Words like predictable and typical. But I needed to watch the movie! Finnick and Khaleesi people!!! So, like the dedicated book nerd I am, I opened the book.

Can I just say, wow?!

I mean, yes there certainly is an air of predictability to the book. To a point. If you haven’t read this book – STOP HERE!!! YE BE WARNED!!!

Okay – we are entering the spoiler zone.

First, I really liked Louisa Clark. I will accept and fully admit my bias since I couldn’t get Khaleesi out of my head, but whatever. I still really liked her character. She was funny and adorable and real. I could picture being friends with her. And then there’s Finnick, I mean, Will. *sigh*

I expected to see the relationship between them develop. It’s hard to see the movie poster of them smiling at each other and NOT piece that together. How they ended in that relationship was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t a cutesy, easy relationship. She did win him over, but not in the easy predictable way I expected.

This book tore my heart out. Which, as I said before, I love. I’m a weirdo, I know.

Honestly, I expected to be disappointed by the ending. I fully expected the author to take the easy road. For him to declare that Clark had, in fact, given him the will to live. I would have rolled my eyes at that ending, and thrown the book down, disappointed at the fluff I had just read.

I know that there is a point of view that this book is terrible because a man who is severely disabled chooses not to live. They are upset at the connotations this brings, and perhaps about the negative message it gives to those who live disabled lives. I disagree.

Full disclaimer: I do not have a debilitating disability. I do get severe migraines along with a myriad of other health issues that often make me feel as if my body has taken me hostage. It does not compare to a spinal cord injury. But I do understand what it might mean to be this man.

My husband is a lot like Will. He loves doing dangerous, exotic things. He has jumped out of a helicopter in Poland (he doesn’t speak Polish), and swam with sharks. He snowboards and hikes and rides a motorcycle. We don’t live quite the adventurous life as Will, but if he could, he would.

He has struggled with his own health issues, that have put a damper on his outdoor life. And the depression that follows is no joke. It is real. Luckily, his issues have an answer. They have treatments that work. But I won’t lie. As I was reading the end, all I could think was what if.

What if he had no hope of recovery? What if he had to accept living a life he didn’t plan, or want? What if things got worse? What if?

I completely understand the argument, that being disabled does not mean a lesser life. I fully agree. But, I also agree that no one has a right to tell you what a lesser life is. One way or the other.

Maybe it’s because I’ve struggled with depression. I’ve struggled with this dark thing that no one else seems to understand. It isn’t a matter of going outside and realizing life is beautiful. Or appreciating the people who love you. It is bleak and heavy and overwhelming.

So it felt real to me that even this bright, bubbly woman, who he clearly loved, wouldn’t change his mind. I understood when he told her, loving her was a constant reminder of who he couldn’t be, what he couldn’t have. Sometimes accepting a life as is, just isn’t enough. Maybe that doesn’t make people happy. It doesn’t make it less true.

We are constantly told to live up to our potential. To reach for the stars. Yet, when it suits us, the message changes. Accept life as it is. Be grateful for what you have, not what you don’t. For someone who knows themselves, or who has lived to their potential and had it taken away, perhaps they know the path to their own happiness best.

As a society, I think we are afraid to have difficult conversations. The message wasn’t kill yourself if you have a disability. In fact, the author highlighted the chat rooms and people who were able to accept their changed lives and make the best of them. But even they understood when someone couldn’t.

So yes. This book had an air of predictability to it. They fell in love. She won him over. But, as in life, it was a touch more complicated than that.

Sometimes we don’t get the ending we want. Sometimes we fall in love with someone who isn’t meant to stay in our life. But sometimes, we get to open our eyes, push through the pain, and really learn how to live.

Strange the Dreamer

Lyrical and haunting. Beautiful and tragic. Strange the Dreamer is a book that will leave you breathless.

“He listened the way a cactus drinks rain.”

This book is filled with gorgeous sentences, just like this. Even more, this is exactly how you will read this book. Gulping the words in frantic desperation trying to hold yourself back knowing that when it ends, you will have to hold in as much as you can until you can drink again.

This is a book that will sweep you away in its haunting beauty. You will lose yourself following Lazlo and Sarai as they dream their separate dreams.

Lazlo is an orphan, left abandoned to be raised in a monastery. Luck, or fate, leads him to a library, where he is content to read stories trying to solve the mystery of the Unseen City. A city lost for two hundred years. A city whose name was stolen. Lazlo, or Strange, is quite content to simply dream. Until his books are taken and a man named the Godslayer arrives. Fate it seems, has a much different plan.

Sarai, a Godspawn, a survivor, lives in the citadel high above the lost city of Weep. The name, stolen; the people, abandoned. She and her siblings live a meager life, surrounded by ghosts of the slaughter. All she wants is to live. To be left alone and not afraid. But the people below her believe them dead. Slaughtered with the rest. If they knew they were alive, fear and hatred would make survival impossible.

At the core of the book, we face the ultimate battle of good versus evil. The brilliance in the story, is that this battle is both literal and figurative. There is an evil lurking in and above the city of Weep, the Unseen City. But what is evil? And can it actually be fought?

Lazlo is a dreamer. He dreams beautiful dreams where anything is possible. Where you can turn your nightmares “into fireflies and catch them in jars.” Where love is possible. Peace is possible. Forgiveness is possible. But can those possibilities happen in real life? Or are they meant only for dreams?

As Lazlo enters the Unseen City, as he unravels the mystery keeping the citizens from the world, he begins to realize that life is more complicated than dreams. “Good people do all the things bad people do, Lazlo. It’s just that when they do them, they call it justice.” If a good person does a bad thing, does that make them bad?

Woven into this story, is heartbreak and hope, love and hate, wonder and despair. Each word battling its opposite, but also needing it. We need love to know hate. We need wonder to know despair. We need heartbreak to know hope.

Taylor takes us through each, giving us waves of good, followed by waves of bad. Back and forth, up and down. With each horrific truth uncovered, we see past the act, and into the humanity that sparked it. We are given the empathy to mourn the action and the result in tandem. Good and evil, intertwined in complex humanity.

We know in the beginning, that something shocking and terrible will happen. We know it, and forget, lost instead in the mystery and wonder of this world. We know it, and forget, not wanting to face the clues laid before us. We know it, and forget.

Yet, as we are swept to the end, we are forced to remember. As we realize that there are no easy answers, as we realize with mounting horror that tragedy is looming, we still cling to hope, to dreams.

The book ends, and we scream for the sequel. Like the cactus after rain, you are left sated yet wanting. Satisfied but still yearning for more.

Laini Taylor has a talent at making the reader see that nothing is black and white. Good and evil are words that don’t fit in nice tidy boxes. Good people do bad things. Bad people do good things. And sometimes, bad things that happen to good people can turn them bad.

She also makes us examine the complex nature of good versus bad. We can’t have one without the other. We can’t be entirely good or entirely bad. They are interwoven, combined. One can’t exist without the other. And sometimes they can exist together.

It isn’t a case of creating a back story for a villain. Instead, we are given an alternative. That perhaps we are all capable of being turned into the villain. Or, conversely, that we are all capable of being turned into the hero. We see that words like fear, hate, evil, don’t exist in a vacuum. They are words born, created, evolved. The edges of these words are often blurred, making it difficult to see where they began, if they might end.

This book is made of magic. That special magic that transports the reader to the depths of their imagination. Read it and be swept away. Read it and fall in love. Read it and experience heartbreak.

It’s been weeks since I finished, and still I can’t get the stunning imagery out of my head. I can’t walk away from the characters and events of this book.

I feel that words simply cannot encapsulate this book. It is a book to be experienced, not just read. It is more than a compilation of words, it is beauty incarnate.

This book is haunting. It will haunt you. Though, isn’t that all we can ask a good book do?