#PBHOWLERFEST

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

 

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

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And I said YES!

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

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But let’s get to the juicy gossip.

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

Here’s a few for your perusal……

Once you voted, you entered the theater itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good night Howlers! Per Aspera Ad Astra!!!

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.

 

#NaNoWriMo

For those of you who don’t know what those crazy letters spell out; November is National Novel Writing Month. Or, it was, when it was November. Aspiring writers of all ages and accomplishments set their goals for 50,000 words in the month. This was the first year I participated in this event, and I was hoping to write at least 1,500 words every day in November, and end with a finished first draft.

The good news, is that I did develop the habit of writing daily, bringing me out of the slump I found myself  in. Which put a significant dent towards completing my draft. The bad news is that I officially only ended November with a little under 19,000 words written.

It seems an easy thing when sitting down at the beginning of a new month. To have a word goal. A goal that, on a good day, should only take a few hours to reach. And yet….

This was a strange year for me. I have been lucky enough to effectively remove most obstacles that have stood in my way to write full time. For years, excuse after excuse have helped soothe the fear I feel when I sit in front of a screen, or dream about submitting a manuscript to an agent. If only I had more time….. If only I could focus on just writing….. If only I had less stress….. And yet…..

Since May of this year, I have had the time, and the focus, and removed a significant source of my stress. I have been able to control my schedule and take control of my destiny. And yet, I have not made the progress I wanted to.

The sad truth is, when motivational speakers and mottos tell you that you are the only obstacle you face, they’re right. And that’s a hard thing to face. All of those excuses may have been legitimate but they were also excuses. They were fear, and once removed, I had to face that fear. I had to face myself.

It’s a daunting thing to actually go after a dream. There is no guarantee of success. There is no guarantee it will even be what you dreamed it would be. There is a chance it will be everything you dreamed it would be.

In some ways failure is more manageable. We know what it looks like, what it feels like. We know what to expect. But success, well, that’s a bit more frightening. It could be bigger than anything we imagined. It is infinite in it’s possibility, while failure has a definite bottom. Anything imagined is always harder to face than something known.

Why am I rambling on about success and failure, dreams and fears? Well, because that’s really what my Nano month was all about. I have already committed to writing, and am nearly done with a draft. But to actually face that fear. That pit in the bottom of my stomach that screams all the what if’s, some good, some bad, all unknown. That’s what has been holding me back and making it difficult to write the way I know I can.

I’ve been standing on the edge of the cliff of writing for 76,000 words. I’ve flirted with the abyss, dangled my legs, peered over the edge. But I’ve remained on the edge, afraid to commit to the jump. It’s easy to come up with excuses, before writing full time and after. Excuse after excuse, when really it’s all about fear.

So this year, I committed to a website with a word goal. I signed up and put myself out there. I joined a writer group on Instagram and checked in with them nearly daily. Some of them reached their goals, some of them didn’t. I didn’t. But we wrote. And we talked about writing. And I felt more comfortable tackling this project than I have in quite a few months.

I may not have reached my goal, but I’m closer. Writing isn’t always about the word counts I’m discovering. It’s about the moments of terror and triumph, and the thousands of moments in between.

I’ve written another 4,000 in December, and each day brings me closer to the end. It’s terrifying. It’s exhilarating. It’s daunting. And then, I have to face sitting down and editing this draft. With all the fear and doubt and frustration that goes along with that adventure.

I can do this. I know I can. Now to go do it.

#amwriting

I’ve been asked quite a bit lately about my writing. What am I writing? When am I going to be finished? When will I submit? And, mostly, what happened to that other book you wrote?

In January last year, I had a moment, sitting in my office, when I realized that I wasn’t fulfilled. I hated my job, and felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. Watching my only son go off to college to pursue his dreams, and attending his orientation where you are in a room filled with people who still believe that anything in life is possible, is probably what triggered this. I realized, at some point I had forgotten how to dream. I had forgotten what I wanted, and I wasn’t happy.

So, I sat down to write.

This was not my first book. I’ve been writing on and off since I was 7. And throughout the years, I had even drafted and almost finished several novels. But none of them worked, for a variety of reasons. When I started writing in January, I had an idea. It was cute. And funny. And the characters weren’t terrible. And I completed it.

I went to a convention and pitched it. I received decent feedback on it. I went in to edit it, and discovered I hated it.

And here’s where I think I had a crisis as a writer before I even began. Do I finish what I hate? Or do I go with my gut and start a new process? There is advice everywhere giving lots of solid reasons to do either choice.

My decision was to shelve the book. I went with my gut. And here’s why.

As a reader, I’ve read countless Indie books where the idea is good, and the plot is decent and the characters are even likable. But it needed work. More editing. More finessing. Just more time and attention. They weren’t terrible, and indeed, many readers and reviewers enjoyed them, but they could have been amazing.

I understand the impulse to want to get your work out there. Publishing is a long, arduous process, which is why I think many people choose to go Indie. A writing dream doesn’t pay the bills. I feel the same pressure.

On top of that, let’s throw in my own mid-life crisis. I’m relaunching a career late in my 30’s. I already feel behind. I already feel like I have to do it NOW NOW NOW! And for good measure, let’s throw in insecurities about writing, and feedback, and not being good enough.

I felt the pressure to submit this first book. Because it probably was good enough. But to me, it wasn’t great. It was okay. There are lots of okay books out there that do well and are well received. However, you can only debut once. And once a book is published, it’s out there forever.

Although it may sound like I think I can write a book to win the masses, I know that isn’t true. Not to say that I can’t be a successful writer, but no one, not even Stephen King, can write a book that everyone likes. It isn’t possible. I know this. The only thing I can control is how I feel about the book I present. And if I put every bit of my heart and soul into a book, and know deep in my gut that it was the best I could do at the time I did it, then I can walk into that world and feel good about it. I need to have that confidence to face the criticism and rejection and bad reviews that will inevitably come.

In my gut, I know that the book I’m writing now is better. I know it fits me more. I know that I get excited to talk about it, and describe my characters, and constantly think about the plot. It’s only a first draft, but I am already proud of it. Of what I’ve created. I didn’t have that the first time.

I don’t want to be a writer so that I can have a shelf full of my own books, pumped out as fast as I can write them. Or, I do want a shelf full of books, but I want them to be my best efforts. The books I can’t get out of my head, filled with characters that are pieces of me. I have those books in me. I feel them in my heart, in my gut, in my head.

It probably seems crazy to have spent a year on a book and then to walk away from it. Some days it feels crazy. It feels like wasted time and effort. It feels like I’m even further behind. But, I know that’s not true. That book showed me I CAN do it. I can write a book. I can edit a book. I can see plot failures and work to correct them. I can. Which means I can do it again. And again. And again.

Writing is a dream I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I walked away from that dream for over a decade. Coming back to it isn’t going to be easy. I don’t want it to be easy.

I’m going to finish this book, and I’m going to submit it. I know it’s a good story. That doesn’t mean it will be picked up. Or even sold. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. I have no idea. What I DO know, in the core of my being, is that it’s good. If this doesn’t sell, I will go with my next gut instinct and write the next book. I will write, and I will submit, and eventually, I know I will find my publishing people.

So, for those of you who wonder, I am writing. Thanks for your support, both vocal and non. I feel your support even when you don’t say anything. I feel it even more when you do.

Writing is a process. It’s art. Not everything created needs to be let out into the world. Sometimes, a piece of work is for the artist, intended to help them in some unseen or unknown way. This is my way, and I have to trust my instinct.

Anything worth doing, is worth doing right. Thanks for sticking with me!

Block 46 – Review

There are some books where the synopsis cannot possibly prepare you for what you are about to read. Where the synopsis cannot begin to encompass the words contained within the covers. Where words like shocking and breathtaking are inadequate to describe the experience.

Block 46 is one of those books.

It’s been one week since I finished this book, and I am sitting here struggling to form words for this review. Everything I want to say feels inadequate. Or is full of spoilers. And this book should not be spoiled.

The premise of two dead bodies, mutilated in the same way but found in different countries sounded interesting. Then you add in the story of a young man struggling to maintain his humanity in Buchenwald during the Holocaust.

“Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?”

That one sentence from the back cover was enough to captivate me. However, the skill in which Johana Gustawsson draws the reader in, made me frantically turn the pages wanting to know what was happening and what would happen next.

How do you tie in current events with the horrors of the past? Each clue we are given doesn’t make sense. How can a survivor match the profile of a killer between 35-45 years old? How could we believe that someone who fought to live would then seek to take lives?

The art of suspense in this book is deeply psychological. Gustawsson takes us down a path, unveiling glimpses of the scenery around us, making us comfortable with where we think she is taking us. She allows us to form our own opinions and solidify our beliefs before she reveals the reality.

Profiling serial killers is already a plot line full of psychological suspense. I’ve always been fascinated with the skill behind profiling. How can you put yourself in the mind of a killer and maintain your humanity. To hunt, or be hunted. To take the clues from gruesome and horrific scenes where pain and terror taint every surface is impressive. And also terrifying.

But there is more than the psychology of a profiler or a serial killer lurking in these pages. There is the exploration of being a victim, of being a survivor.

I think alternating the story with scenes and descriptions from the Holocaust, makes this book especially haunting. She does not back away from the horror of a concentration camp. We are shown the brutality in a matter of fact narration, which serves to only drive home the harshness of that reality. There is no minimizing the horror, no glamorizing or softening the impact.

There is evil in this world and Block 46 doesn’t allow you to forget this.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I am always surprised when a plot twist manages to actually shock me. This book didn’t feel predictable exactly, but I did feel comfortable with the direction it was taking me. Except, when the end came, I found that I wasn’t prepared at all for what the ending revealed.

The twist was unexpected, but the ending felt more like being in a fight. The hits continue to land from all around, leaving you gasping as you turn the final pages.

Block 46 is a book that will stay with you long after you put it down. I find myself picking it up, only to shake my head as I remember the journey it took me on. Johana Gustawsson artfully weaves suspense and mystery together. I am in awe of the final result.

Anyone who enjoys suspense, mystery and thrillers needs to read this book!

Thank you Orenda books for the amazing opportunity to read and experience this exceptional novel.

 

 

10 Things I Can See From Here

Living with anxiety is no easy task. First, you have to actually live with anxiety. Then you have to try and help everyone in your life understand what that means.

Maeve is a teenage girl living with anxiety. The one person who understands her, and can help her fight through the panic is her mother. Which is the good news. The bad news is that her mom is going to Haiti for six months. Meaning Maeve has to go live with her dad.

I’ve lived with chronic anxiety for most of my life. Some days it’s manageable. It’s controllable. It’s easy to forget how crippling it can be. Other days it’s not. My entire body can feel jittery and wired, a feeling of panic hovering just on the edges for no reason. I can feel the crushing weight of this panic. So, I was more than a little timid about reading a book where the main character has an anxiety disorder.

People commonly attribute anxiety to simply worrying. “We all have our worries. There is no corner on the market.”

There is no corner on the market for stress. Or worry. But anyone who has stared at a dark ceiling, exhausted from worry but nowhere near sleep understands that there is a difference. The thing with anxiety, at least for me, is that often I can feel that crushing weight of panic for no discernible reason. Not because I’m worried about any one particular thing. Or have any one particular stress. Sometimes I am filled with the tingly numbness of panic and I don’t know why.

This is the world Maeve lives in. One potential ‘what if’ can spiral out of control and cause her to panic. It’s debilitating. It wreaks havoc on her family, her relationships and on her sense of self.

I really liked how Mac captured how exhausting it is to live with an anxiety disorder of this magnitude. My anxiety is not as severe as Maeve’s, yet I completely understood how she felt.

From the moment Maeve steps on the bus headed to Vancouver, she can’t get those worries out of her head. Facts are constantly running through her head, an endless ticker of morbid statistics. She can’t stop. Even though she survives the bus trip, her father being an hour late without answering any calls or texts sets an ominous tone for a her visit.

Her father is a recovering alcoholic (50-90% of recovering addicts relapse). Her step-mother is pregnant and planning for another home birth (a plethora of dangers there). Her younger twin brothers offer her a surprising safe haven by “being little and loud and bursting with bright, shiny goodness,” Owen is a worrier like her and Corbin is fearless. But they both offer her love and understanding and distraction.

With her mother not as available as she promised and her dad acting weird, there is plenty for Maeve to worry about it.

Anxiety is not always an easy thing for outside people to understand. It is an invisible enemy. How do you explain to someone that everything really will be okay? Because, the thing is, we don’t know that. We can’t know that.

Fear is a good thing. It is the reason we survive, the reason we evolved. Fear keeps us safe. But our brains also have a switch. A way to control the fear and keep it from controlling us. If our ancestors were controlled by their fear, we would never have left the cave. We never would have discovered anything that propelled us into the future.

When that switch is defective, or missing entirely, it’s hard to comprehend.

“But I see the fear, and then I go through the fear, and then I get to the other side of fear. I go through it.”

That’s how most people deal with fear. Like Salix, the girl Maeve is drawn to. She doesn’t let her fears control her. She looks it in the face and goes through it. You would think that someone like that might struggle with dealing with Maeve. Surprisingly she is the one who seems to see her the clearest. She sees how Maeve struggles, and instead of making her be someone she isn’t, she asks her for small steps. I honestly thought that was beautiful.

In the end, even though nothing goes right, and Maeve has to face and deal with more than she ever thought possible, she also discovers that life happens. She takes small steps and in those small steps, she finds that there is a strength in progress. Even if is something small. And sometimes those small things, prepare you for something bigger.

For someone who deals with anxiety, who struggles with it, this ending was perfect. “Everything changed, and everything stayed the same.” Because that’s exactly how life works. Everything does change. Even if we don’t want it to. Even if we fight for things to stay safe, and the same. But, everything also stays the same.

I don’t imagine that Maeve woke up the day after the book ended cured. Or relieved of her worries and anxiety. But, I do believe that some days became easier than others. That some things became easier than others.

This book is funny and has heart. It is warm and heartfelt. If you struggle with anxiety, or even know someone who does, I think that this book gives an insight of what it can be like. Maybe it doesn’t fit everyone’s experience, but I felt it was relatable and realistic.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

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.

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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.

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