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.

 

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!

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!

View all my reviews

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?

My Life to Live

Most everyone I know grew up watching soap operas. At least, they watched them in the way we watch what our mothers, and aunts, and grandmothers watched. Reluctantly since if we didn’t, we wouldn’t watch anything at all. So, willingly or unwillingly, we all knew the plots.

My mother watched All My Children religiously. She taped them every day and watched them either that night or over the weekend while my dad escaped to do dad things. There were others, but Erica Kane and Pine Valley were practically family in our house.

When I saw that the creator of the show had written a memoir, I was curious to read it.

Agnes Nixon led an incredible life. It wasn’t just that she was a woman writer in a time when that was practically unheard of. It wasn’t even that she created two successful shows that ran for four decades. Those are amazing accomplishments to be sure, but she achieved these milestones in spite of facing multiple obstacles and set backs.

One of the most interesting parts of this book was reading about her initial writing process. She includes one of the scripts she wrote for radio that launched her career. I’ve never given much thought to how writers had to evolve their writing to meet the new demands of television before. Things like timing in plot, dialogue and even having to consider visual effects were considerable changes. It was fascinating to read how she learned from each change and had to work to adapt her writing to meet these new demands.

Having grown up with these shows, I honestly had never given much thought to them. I had never considered how provocative, or how socially aware and cutting edge they actually were. They seemed silly and outlandish. People got married and divorced. They lied, cheated and stole. They faked deaths and kidnapped their rivals. They encountered bizarre medical conditions. They were outrageous and dramatic. That’s what I remember.

What I didn’t remember, partly because some happened before my time, were the plot lines bringing attention to racial tension, the war in Vietnam, abortion, drug addiction, child and domestic abuse, and so much more. They were one of the first shows to have an actor play a gay man coming out. And to his High School class no less.

They put banners at the end of episodes directing their audience to resources based on the subject matter, and were very successful in increasing programs and awareness by doing this. They increased awareness for drug addition, AIDS, Diabetes, and more. Nixon and several actors playing the roles have won awards, or been given recognition for their work in these areas. Social impact went hand in hand with these daily episodes.

Nixon talks quite a bit about how she watched things happen in her childhood, and throughout her life, social issues that made her feel helpless. She wanted to bring these subjects to light. She wanted to give people a chance to change their opinions or learn something new. This was her motivation. And she was constantly listening and learning to stay relevant to the times.

That sort of determination shows exactly what type of woman Agnes Nixon was. It is true that she had an incredibly supportive mother and an aunt who pushed her to reach for the stars. She married a man who was ahead of his time in his unwavering support of her career. But she faced the constant criticism of her father and numerous obstacles from men in the industry.

Yet, she still pushed forward and carried on, going back to her belief in herself and her willingness to work hard. One of the best summations of writing I’ve read is when she said, “the biggest element of successful writing is the ability to get the seat of your pants to the seat of your chair.” Make yourself write. Do the work. Simple but true.

Another, and this one more profound, was her opinion on criticism. “I didn’t mind the criticism; it meant our show was helping people voice their opinions,” she wrote. To be able to choose to air risky and controversial topics is one thing. To accept the criticism without taking it personally is phenomenal.

I didn’t know what I expected when I picked up this book. A fun trip remembering some of my favorite characters? She gave me that. But she gave me more too. Lessons and reminders on how to be a writer. Lessons and reminders that everyone will have an opinion of your life. But the best lesson and reminder was this: “We only have one life to live, and we have to try to make the most of it.”

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. I’ve included links below.

 

How to Build a Girl

The other day, I finished reading ‘How to build a Girl’, by Caitlin Moran. Days later, I am still thinking about it.

First, I loved this book. I flagged so many quotes it now resembles the infamous photo of how many people have died in a Game of Thrones novel. I will reread this book and turn to it in dark times, I’m sure. What was surprising wasn’t how much I enjoyed it. I was surprised because of why I loved it.

At the onset, we find ourselves in England, in the very early 1990’s with our main character Johanna. She is in her early teens and is on a mission to find herself. After humiliating herself on a local TV program, she sets to reinvent herself and creates Dolly Wilde.

Dolly finds herself as a music reviewer for a small magazine and then finds herself in the middle of the blooming alternative, grunge rock scene. Antics is probably the only word to sum up her adventures in this wild music scene, and there are a ton of them. The writing is sharp and incredibly witty. There were paragraphs I read out loud to my husband, and many more laugh out loud funny moments.

It isn’t just the plot or the funny writing that made me fall in love with the book. I can completely relate to the character. While she is a few years older than I was at the time, I also remember the birth of alternative rock. It’s a love affair that I am still immersed in today. I also was a lost wayward youth, trying to find myself and my way through a turbulent adolescence.

Caitlin Moran has done a magnificent job of articulating what it is to be a lost teenage girl. She captures how painful it is to try on a personality, to find it lacking and to tear it up and start over again. She reminded me of how lost and clueless and adrift some girls are.

She also did an amazing job of summarizing how easy it is, as a girl and then a woman, to find yourself in situations or doing things that you don’t really want to do. In one scene in particular, she describes having sex not because she enjoyed it, but because the boy did. That was her job, to provide enjoyment to him. She didn’t even consider if she liked it, or wanted to be doing it.

Granted, not all teenage girls find themselves in these types of situations. Not all women do either. But, if we were all super honest with ourselves, I think maybe we do. Take sex out of the equation, how many of us found ourselves laughing at another girl, or even a boy because of some ridiculous reason. Maybe we even felt bad about it, but we still joined in. Or, maybe we shoplifted, or trespassed, or lied. I think everyone has probably found themselves in a situation during then teen years (and beyond), where they did something without really thinking about why, or if they wanted to. Personally, I can remember many moments like this.

Dolly does make a name for herself. She does it by never reviewing anyone she likes, (it makes her writing sound like a fan), and by tearing the music apart. Her reviews are vicious and surgical in her dissection of them. She finds out that bands are terrified of her, but even then she doesn’t stop. It takes her enduring humiliation of a boy she isn’t even sure she likes to force her to take a look at the girl she has built.

Dolly isn’t made up of all bad things. She finds that she was in fact, capable of stopping a situation she didn’t like. She found a friend tantamount to a soulmate. She discovered she can write.

Her biggest realization though, is that she can always tear the girl down and rebuild her when things go awry.

I wish this book had been written twenty years ago. I wish someone had helped me laugh and cry my way to these same realizations. To quote, “This is the work of your teenage years-to build up and tear down and build up again, over and over, endlessly.”

I would change that slightly to say, that this is the work of life. I wish someone had told me that too. We are never set in stone – built and meant to be unchanging. To live is to change. To grow old is to change. We are constantly changing. And yet, we live in a world where somehow the expectation is to ‘find yourself’ and be done. That’s that. It’s a wonder any of us are sane with that attitude.

This book found its way in my life, at the exact time I needed it. And somehow Caitlin Moran, knew that I didn’t just need the words of the novel itself, but the words she wrote in her acknowledgments.

I read the acknowledgements in nearly every book. I am constantly amazed at how many people support an author throughout the process. Partly, I look for agent names, editor names. People that I may want to send a synopsis to. Every time I read this section from a well known author though, I find myself on the dark side of despair.

It takes A LOT of people to write a novel. That is always the message I get. And, I don’t HAVE a lot of people. I have my people, but I don’t have a writing buddy that I can bounce ideas off of. I don’t have an agent who can give me a pep talk when I need it most. I don’t have an editor harassing me into productivity to meet a deadline. I have me. Most days, this is ok. But some days, I find myself wallowing in self-pity. I find myself thinking I’m ridiculous to even try this daunting endeavor. I think, I’ll never have THOSE people.

And then came Caitlin Moran’s acknowledgements. Where she talked about how utterly difficult it is to write a book. Painstakingly difficult. She too had days where she thought she made a horrific mistake and could never, ever finish a novel. She too had days where the entire thing seemed too big, too dumb, too much. She too had days where she was in tears while staring at a blinking cursor on a computer screen.

I found myself relating to this book and this author again, on a whole new level. So many times, it is so easy to look at the finished product and think how amazing these authors are. And they are. But, everyone has a first draft. And every author has a manuscript in their drawer that makes them cringe. And every author has days when it is all too much. I know this. I’ve read and listened to interviews. But there is something so raw and real about Caitlin’s writing that made me actually believe it this time.

Sometimes, I read those interviews or those quotes, and they seem like those wonderful inspirational posters we see everywhere. The words are pretty, but deep down I don’t believe them. This time I did.

I may actually make a copy of her acknowledgements and post it above my desk to remind me that I am not alone.

Writing can be solitary. An internal dive into our own brains. Sometimes, I may dive a bit too deep. Someday, I may find myself surrounded by those people. And I may not. Even getting published, there is no guarantee I will suddenly find myself in the middle of a gaggle of author friends. And that’s ok.

I found that I hadn’t quite finished building this girl. I am sure I will tear down parts and pieces, and add new parts and pieces many more times before I’m done. Maybe the secret is I’ll never actually be done. I’m glad to finally know the secret.

Any parent of a teenager in general, but especially girls, should read this book. If you can get over the language and the references to sex and drugs, (of which there are quite a lot), it’s a fantastic dive into that lost and lonely world. Adolescence is brutal. Being an adult, is also sometimes brutal. Life can be brutal. This book helped me realize that there is a light at the end of those brutal times.

Confidently Unsure

Confidence is such a weird thing. We come across that word so many times throughout our days, our lives, and yet I feel that so often what I read or hear isn’t quite right.

I am not confident in a lot of things that I do. At the same time, I am boldly confident at other things. Sometimes, I find that I am both at the same time over the same thing. Weird, right?

When it came to my former job, I had confidence that probably bordered on arrogance. I knew what I was doing. I knew the business. I  knew the direction the business needed to move, and how to get it to move there. I had no problem being direct or making decisive decisions. I was confidence defined.

Yet, I also found myself extremely unhappy and unfulfilled. As a result, I was constantly questioning myself, wondering if I was making the right decisions. Which is not confidence defined.

One of the first things I forced myself to face last year, was this exact dilemma. I had a job that I was fairly secure in, that I was good at, that I even enjoyed on some days. I also had a job where I did not feel appreciated, and felt like I had to work insanely hard to be heard and respected.

The main office was not located where I live, so I effectively ran the businesses here with little oversight or guidance. I oversaw HR and the retail operations, my co-worker ran real estate development and fuel operations. It is not my imagination when my direct boss would contact my male co-worker to complete assignments and tasks that fell directly under my scope. This did not happen once or twice. It happened every single time. He would also contact him to notify “us” when he was coming to town, or had meetings he needed “us” to attend, or to request things that only I could complete or answer. He rarely made direct contact with me. That is not my imagination. And to be truthful, it pissed me off to no end.

And it wasn’t just him. I was surrounded in an industry of men, and they all did it. To be fair, this is not the first job I had in the industry, and I would say my entire career was full of men overlooking women. I think the same can be said for many women, in many fields.

While I said I was fully confident in my capabilities, there was a different confidence where these small things were taking a brutal beating. These small hits were constantly eroding the confidence I had in myself. Imagine being in a meeting room, and an idea you throw out is largely ignored, until a few minutes later a man, sitting near you, says the exact same thing, and it is applauded as a great idea. It happened all the time. I would talk to other women, read books by women, and it was so similar. Yet, we’re told to persevere, to find our place. I believed that these small hits were part of being successful. You have to grow a thick skin, ignore it. I convinced myself that it didn’t matter.

I was so wrong.

When I found myself listless, and angry, and unmotivated, and often depressed, I had to figure out why. Everyone has things they hate about their jobs. You’re supposed to find a career and stick with it, only a lucky few actually get their dream jobs. I had a good income, was pretty good at what I did, had security, and even had a boss that literally lived hundreds of miles away. Living the dream, right?

I don’t think living life in a mediocre or moderately satisfying way, is a lifestyle choice many of us would make when we are children. If we put on the veil of idealism, we know who we want to be, and what we want to do. What I lacked, was the confidence to do it.

Some people don’t see themselves in the business world as children, and find themselves very happy. Kudos to them. Honestly, I wish in some ways that I found my experience to be satisfying enough to stay in that environment and thrive. But there is a huge difference between surviving and thriving. I was not thriving. Not in any definition of the word.

I get migraines. Always have. My entire life. Migraines constantly. And sinus infections that would explode into border pneumonia, multiple times, every year. Without fail. Isn’t it interesting then, that this year is the first year I haven’t been sick like that? Isn’t it interesting that my migraines have decreased? They haven’t disappeared, but now that I can rest, and live life on my schedules, they have gone down.

I cuddle more with my dogs, and laugh more with my husband. We have gotten more accomplished around our house in the last six months than the last three years. I don’t dread getting out of bed daily. I simply feel better, and my life has improved.

I always thought confidence was an external thing. Yes, I know it lives inside us, but it often produces tangible, external results. Confident people are successful people. We see it all the time, plastered on the covers of magazines, movies, television and social media. We are told to embrace our inner confidence, to believe in ourselves. This is the first year that I am actually learning what that means.

Confidence in myself is still a slow process. I have days where I think following a dream is insane, foolish, childish. I have days where I don’t write as well as I would like. I have days where I feel lost and frightened. Confidence, like bravery, isn’t lack of these things, but the ability to push through them.

We live in a strange society where the sense of self is valued but not cultivated. Where we find ourselves isolated by the things that are meant to connect. We strive to stand out, to be special, to make a difference, make an impact. In an effort to do that, to be that, we find a society more disconnected than ever.

Confidence cannot be found in these external things. It is living within us. It is living within me. I need to cultivate it. And I do that by following the things in life that make me thrive. I may never be “successful” in my writing. I may never see my books launched into the stratosphere of authors I worship. But that’s ok. As long as I follow the path that is mine, and mine alone. As long as I do the things in life that allow me to thrive. As long as I stay true to myself. My life will be fulfilled, and deep, and rich.

Confidence is not arrogance. It is not boldness and brashness. Those are actually traits that don’t belong in the realm of confident people. These are things we’ve been told, much like you have to be wealthy to be successful. I am tired of allowing other people to dictate what my confidence is, what my success means.

Instead, I will nurture the flicker of warmth I feel when I write a good sentence. I will embrace the flush of happiness when I finish a chapter. I will cuddle more, and laugh more, and spend time doing things I enjoy. I will confidently and boldly embrace that I am unsure of what I’m doing most of the time. I will listen to the pull in my gut to guide me.

We get one life. One. I refuse to let strangers dictate the terms of mine anymore.