2018 – We have plans!

Last year I sat down around this time, give or take a few days, and started this blog. When I first started, I wasn’t exactly sure what this space was going to be. I knew I wanted to explore my writing more, and I wanted to start reviewing books. But I didn’t really know what that meant.

Fast forward a year, and the more things change, the more they stay the same!

I’ve talked a bit about my reading goals in my 2017 summary. I am once again doing Goodreads, and trying the Book Riot Read Harder challenge again. I am going to leave my Goodreads number as is, just as I did last year. It’s a good exercise for me to stop trying and changing my goals. Set them and work towards them. Even if I meet that challenge, changing it raises too much uncertainty in me. I just need to keep going forward. Does anyone else relate to that?

One of the biggest successes I had was in building relationships in the bookstagram and blogging community. I am floored by how generous and kind the people in these communities are! I talk to them every day, and my life and confidence is blooming because of them. No matter what career or hobby you find yourself in, reaching out and developing relationships with people within that area is such an enriching experience. Being able to talk to other writers and know that they go through the same roller coaster of emotions and challenges helps quiet the noise for me. It helps me feel like I’m not on this journey by myself.

I enjoyed posting my bookstagram photos before, but let me say, the experience is 1000 times better when you get involved in the community. This group of wonderful book worms has single handedly changed my experience of social media. Life is what you put into it, and the same can be said of social media. It can be intimidating and scary to reach out into the abyss of the unknown and open yourself up to strangers. But man is it rewarding! This experience was the most unexpected thing to happen in 2017, and by far one of the best.

Life as a reviewer bloomed in 2017. When I first started, I had no idea how to request books, let alone reach out to publishers or publicists to build relationships. Again, with help from some amazing friends, I learned about Netgalley, First to Read, Blogging for Books and began to email for books. This process can seem daunting when you’re first starting but it isn’t nearly as frightening as I would have initially thought.

I also learned some things about reviewing. The first is, careful what you wish for. When I first began, I emailed and requested everything from everyone. And ended up getting more than I could handle. I wish I had requested less and built better relationships with fewer publishers. Rather than feeling stressed out and spread thin. But you live, you learn, and then you do better.

Personally, 2017 was a bit of a turbulent year. We ended up selling our store in April, and at the time I thought that meant I would have more time. Time to write, time to recover, time to reconnect with myself. What I didn’t anticipate was just how exhausted and run down I had let myself get.

The thing about exhaustion that I learned, is recovery takes time. It’s a slow process. It isn’t just the physicality of it. It’s mental and emotional as well. It meant that I didn’t make as much progress on my manuscript as I thought, and that other projects I dreamed of tackling took more time as well. And when you’re exhausted like that, you can be a bit fragile. I found that my anxiety and depression, which had mostly been under control for quite a long time, hit me hard.

Recognizing that I was in a depressed state took some time. Accepting it took time. And finding my way back, took time. Bit by bit, I found my energy returning, and with it, the ability to focus. I began to feel like myself, a self that I forgot about. Because that’s the other thing with exhaustion. When you run yourself low, but just keep pushing yourself, you forget what normal feels like.

So what does all this mean for 2018 goals?

First, I am going to discipline myself with reviews more. I’m going to request less and work in personal books with my reviews. I don’t want to get back in a rut when I feel like reading is a chore.

I want to post more consistently on my blog. Since I didn’t really have goals in place with my blog when I started, I never got into a routine with my posts. Some weeks I posted daily. Some only once that week. But like anything, consistency matters. So, whether it’s a review, a check in with writing, or writing about questions of the day, I want to post at least every other day.

My manuscript is almost complete, and I want to start submitting within the second quarter of the year. This gives me time to work through a second draft, get to some trusted readers for feedback, and to review that feedback. And of course, start the second book!

I am going to become more active on my social media accounts. Developing friendships has been the best thing I could have done. I want to be sure I continue and give back to that community as best I can.

One of the big accomplishments was opening my Etsy shop! I want to keep developing that account and working on projects so that the shop is always evolving and growing. Writing is my destiny, of that I am sure, but working in this mode creatively is a very fulfilling exercise, and I want to see how far I can take that.

Finally, I want to make sure I am taking time for me. I need to be kind to myself. To forgive myself for setbacks, to cut myself some slack, to stop being my biggest critic. Life is a journey. One meant to be lived. Here’s to taking each day, the good with the bad, and living.

 

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!!!

Mid-Year Reading Challenge Update

Hello! Hello! Fellow Bookworms!

Today marks the end of June and moves us into the second half of the year. At the beginning of the year, I had set some reading goals. This year, I didn’t want to just read to hit a number, but wanted to expand the types of challenges I did, and to do more reviews. So how am I doing?

Reading challenges:

So far, Goodreads has me 20 book ahead of schedule. I set my goal for 75 books. In the past, as I discussed, I would have already changed my goal to a more aggressive number. But, in sticking with what I set out, I am leaving it. I am sure I will end far ahead of that 75 book goal as I am already 57 books, but that’s okay!

I did a 24 hour reading challenge, #readathon in April. I ended up only reading one and half books, but had a lot of fun trying to read for an entire day. It is more challenging than I would have thought. There’s another one in October and I am happily participating.

I have checked a few boxes on my #bookriot annual challenge, but have not been doing that great on that one. It is time to really make sure I choose a book or two each month that fits this challenge so I can check a few more boxes off.

Book Reviews:

As anyone who follows my blog knows, this is going very well! I am happy to report that for the past 2-3 months I have reviewed nearly every book I’ve read! GO ME!!!

It has helped that I have made some amazing relationships with authors and publicists and book review sites, so the added obligation to someone other than myself is helpful in making sure I write that review.

As I suspected, writing to review has changed the way I read. For the better. I am more present and aware during my reading, and I find that I’m asking myself more as I read. Why do I like a book? Or dislike it? I haven’t been this active in my reading since college and like stretching my muscles after not exercising, it feels really good.

Even better is getting sent books to review puts books in front of me that I may not have reached for on my own. I have read quite a few books, that honestly, I probably would have not read if I wasn’t asked to review it. Some of these books I was blown away by! What a shame it would be if I had missed the opportunity to read them.

This is probably the most important lesson I’ve learned. I tend to stick to reading books and genres I am comfortable in. I may, from time to time, grab a book based on a recommendation, but I tend to stay well within what I like. But, not to sound repetitive, but reading is like exercising. Sticking with the same workouts is fine, but how amazing does it feel when we switch up the routine and discover muscles we never knew existed? Amazing! At least, that’s how I feel after reading these new discoveries.

It has also changed my writing, and I find that I am also changing how I write and what I write with each new review. They are mini-writing exercises and are helping me achieve my daily word counts.

As I write more and read more, I have become far more active on social media as well. #Bookstagram is an amazing community, and if you haven’t checked out that hashtag on Instagram, I would strongly recommend browsing some of these beautiful accounts. The creativity that goes into these photographs is simply jaw dropping.

I have made some fantastic friends, discovered some awesome (and dangerous) websites. I’m looking at you Book Outlet! And have been able to begin relationships with book publishers, publicists and authors. I have found a support system for my own writing. It’s been amazing.

Before this year, reading and writing were both things I did very much alone. Even if I talked to people about the books I read, very few people I knew just weren’t willing to be die-hard fangirls with me. Now, I have people I talk to daily. I feel less alone than ever before.

When I started this blog just six months ago, I never would have imagined how much it could change my life. I cannot wait to see where the next six months go!

Happy Reading!

A Review: The Hot Guy

The Hot GuyThe Hot Guy by Mel Campbell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked the premise of this book, and really wanted it to be more. It sounded fun, had some really funny, witty writing and even had a decent plot line.

Which makes this a difficult review to write, because I did enjoy the read. But, in order to enjoy it, I had to suspend my belief in how things work in the real world. And not in a fantasy, action adventure, use your imagination to dream big type of suspension. More like, I had to believe that simply waving a ridiculously attractive man on a Jumbotron would be enough to cause a stampede of women trying to simply touch him.

Unfortunately, for me, it was a bit too ridiculous. It was also a bit sexist, so be warned. (See example above)

In this town, there is one guy, a ridiculously attractive guy, that every woman knows as ‘The Hot Guy’. This guy is the balm to every woman’s need. Simply show up at the bar he regularly attends, flirt, and BAM! Your problems are solved.

Obviously, there are issues with this one plot point alone. Women do not need a hot guy to validate their beauty, importance, intelligence, etc. Nor do they not need to have sex in order to feel better about themselves. And they certainly don’t need a meaningless one night stand.

I’ll suspend my irritation on this, and go with the more empowering view that women can do whatever they like, including sleeping with a man, for one night, for whatever reason they want. Fine. Good. But, the whole idea is to sleep with him to get over another man. In order to find ‘the one’. It’s a bit of a stretch for me. Moving on.

When Cate gets dumped by her mediocre boyfriend, she finds herself in said slump. So, her friends jump to action taking her to meet, ‘The Hot Guy’. Somehow Cate is the only woman in this area who has no idea this is a thing.

Anyway, she sleeps with him and finds she really likes him. So the one night stand, turns into a weekend, which turns into more.

Her friends, knowing how to handle all her relationship woes, are adamantly opposed to this. They tell her she can’t handle dating someone that hot. It’s too much pressure. Someone else can take him away. When she refuses to listen, they try to create chaos to help the break up along. Who needs enemies, right?

Adam, however, is apparently completely oblivious to how hot he is. He has no idea that women have been using him for sex his entire life, or that he is a commodity in this small town. All he wants to do is direct, and doesn’t understand why everyone just wants him to act.

There is an attempt in this plot to use the man as a sex object and sex symbol, and the women as the ones in positions of power. He just wants to find a nice girl and settle down, while fulfilling his dreams. Even being pushed into acting is a focus on using him for his body, and not his mind. I appreciate the attempt to highlight sexism in this way.

However, it just didn’t hit the target for me.

Let’s take the women. First, we are to believe that women are willing to work together in the name of sisterhood so that everyone can take their turn with ‘The Hot Guy’. Yet, the second he dates one seriously, all bets are off. They kidnap Cate, they threaten her, they try to bribe her, all to break up with Adam. So much for sisterhood.

I was hoping for a Bridget Jones-esque romp through the hilarious and often painful world of dating. Love is messy, but it can also be painfully funny. Instead, we are given an outlandish mockery of these ideas.

When you have his parents hoisting ladders to his bedroom window (so she can escape in the middle of the night, like the rest), strange side plots with ex-girlfriends, and a group of obsessed women who have a Facebook page and a waiting list (yes, I am not making that up), well, it’s a bit too much.

The difference with Bridget Jones, is that while I’ve never slid down a fireman pole in a skirt on National Television personally, I can see it happening. I can even see myself doing it, if the circumstances were aligned. With The Hot Guy, I just didn’t buy it.

Before Brad Pitt was Brad Pitt, he was attractive. But he wasn’t women losing their minds attractive because he wasn’t Brad Pitt yet. He was just good looking guy X. And while he like looking at good looking guys, and may even find ourselves doing ridiculous things to gain their attention, I’ve never heard of women losing their minds over some random guy.

I also didn’t buy that Adam was clueless. How many one night stands does a guy think is normal? I mean, every Friday for years. Enough to have a Facebook page and women lined up? His parents helping girls escape in the night so that they didn’t have to explain to him that women wanted him only for his looks? Nope. Not buying it.

Even with those issues, there are some genuinely funny parts. The writing is witty. The characters are true to themselves, ridiculousness and all. If you could suspend the disbelief, and just enjoy it at face value, it is a funny read.

I received a copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest 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.

A review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book! It was such an adorable, easy read.

Simon is such a lovable character. Even when he is having a bad day, you just want to hug him, don’t you? There is so much I adore in this book, I don’t even know where to start.

Wait, yes I do, the parents.

As a parent, I find that a lot of books, especially in the YA realm are sparse on the parent front. Either they aren’t really solid characters, or they have an antagonistic relationship with the main characters, or, in the case of most dystopians, they don’t even exist. I don’t say this to criticize other books, because every character has its place. Even parents. And, let’s be real, teenagers drive parents crazy. Even the good ones. That said, I love Simon’s parents. They are cute, supportive parents who make mistakes and are just struggling to raise a teenager. Believe me, I get where they are coming from!

Simon and his friends made me laugh so much! They remind me of when I was in High School, and had a group of close-knit friends. When we would do things out of character, and everything felt so big, and new. When we would laugh and cry and fight. When going to class could offer amazing insights and unexpected delights. When sitting on the floor of a random party was considered a good night.

Albertalli makes this book so relatable, so warm and funny, that anyone can empathize with the struggles Simon goes through.

We make a lot of mistakes in High School. Hell, we make a lot of mistakes in life. How do we handle them? How do we learn to deal with them? That ends up defining who we are as adults. These kids make mistakes throughout this book. Simon makes many mistakes, and he also finds himself on the receiving end of other peoples mistakes. It is a good lesson that life often doesn’t cooperate when we have plans.

The one thing I really liked was how this book analyzes the topic of coming out. At one point, he asks, “don’t you think everyone should have to come out? Why is straight the default?” And this is a really insightful question. Again, as a parent, there are things that you wonder as your child develops. Are they healthy, are they eating, are they growing. And as they enter adolescence, how will their sexuality emerge? Whether or not my child was gay or straight was never the issue for me, but I did ponder how to bring up the conversation. Because, whether we talked about girls or boys, learning how too set boundaries and be safe still needed to be discussed.

Boundaries are at the core of this book. When to set them, how to have them, what to do when someone pushes them. Simon has to make choices regarding his own boundaries when blackmailed. And other choices as life plays out.

Physical boundaries are often analyzed and discussed, but what about the more ambitious ones? I really think there is an important conversation about boundaries in this book. What someone can physically do to your body is definitely an important topic. It is equally important to discuss the non-physical boundaries as well. Bullying and violation through words is something that happens every day. While the subject matter in this book was kept on the lighter end of the spectrum, it still has the potential to hurt.

I also loved how Simon’s sense of self developed. He has to confront things about himself throughout the book. Who he is as a friend, a son, a brother, a boyfriend. Sometimes he finds that who he is and who he wants to be, don’t quite match up. So again, he has decisions to make. Can he become who he wants to be? And in doing so, he has to decide, really decide, who that is.

The struggle to find ourselves isn’t unique to adolescents. Or to boys. Or to homosexuals. We all go through that. It’s a lifelong process. Simon laments how his parents make a big deal over any small changes he goes through. “I try not to change, but I keep changing, in all these tiny ways. I get a girlfriend. I have a beer. And every freaking time, I have to reintroduce myself to the universe all over again.” And yes! Welcome to life, Simon, welcome to life.

I would encourage parents to read this book. At worst, you will laugh and remember what it was like to be young. At best, you will have some subject matter to discuss with your own kids. No matter who you are, or why you decide to read this, I highly recommend it. Read for the laughs. Read for the life lessons. Just read!

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