#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!!!

Red Rising – Review

“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.”

Anyone who has known me at all, for any time, during the last two years, has probably had me try and push this book on them. I mean, it’s pretty bloodydamn amazing. As I’ve pushed it and raved about it and wanted to get ready for the new release of Iron Gold, a quiet part of me wondered, would my love of this series survive a reread?

Yes, my goodmen, it gorywell can!

For those of you who may not know the story of Darrow, Red Rising is the first in a trilogy. And be warned, this series will not be for everyone. It is violent, brutally so. This book is a fascinating and in-depth look at the complexity of power in society.

Darrow is a Red. Born in the mines underground on Mars, mining an element that will make terraforming planets possible. They are told they will be heroes when they mine enough. Saviors of mankind. They work on the promise of a better life for their children.

But that promise is a lie. Built by the Golds.

Darrow soon learns of this betrayal and his rage drives him to do the impossible. Become his enemy.

Through Darrow’s eyes, we learn of the enormity of the lies he had been raised on. We learn of the vast caste of Colors, all playing a role in maintaining a society that thrives. Golds at the top, and everyone else serving beneath them.

But we also learn that there is a reason the Golds rule. They are cold and cruel. Willing to inflict pain for the greater good. Willing to do what is necessary to retain their power.

“Gods don’t come down in life to mete out justice. The powerful do it. That’s what they are teaching us, not only the pain in gaining power, but the desperation that comes with not having it, the desperation that comes when you are not a Gold.”

There is so much to rave about in this series! SO MUCH!

The examination of power within a society is fascinating in this book. Not just in the caste system and the way it’s laid out. But even the level of power an individual has within each caste. Not every Red is created equal. Not every Gold is created equal. Each Color has it’s own positioning, with appropriate benefits or punishments to be doled out as the leaders see fit. This book really does an excellent job of showing how precarious power can be, and how ruthless people have to be to secure it.

“Security and justice aren’t given. They are made by the strong.”

If Game of Thrones upset you over an author willing to kill his darlings, be prepared, because Pierce Brown drinks the tears of his readers for breakfast and laughs. Except it isn’t just the fact that he willingly kills off characters. It’s that he writes such amazing side characters, with such depth, and gives them such vibrancy, that it doesn’t take very long before you’ve become attached. It’s actually quite a skill to create these personalities in his characters that manage to find their way into your hearts so quickly.

Brown’s ability to write this diverse and vivid cast of characters is impressive. If your favorites manage to stay alive, and that’s a big if, you’ll find that even though this book is told in the first person entirely through Darrow’s perspective, Darrow isn’t the only character you root for. I dare you not to fall for our favorite little goblin or the giant teddy bear of a warrior! I DARE YOU!

“If violence is the Gold sport, manipulation is their art form.”

The level of manipulation and betrayal in the Gold caste is breathtaking. Characters you root for, you find yourself cursing. Alliances change lightening fast. Power a tricky and slippery thing. Again, this look at how power works is stunning. How it is elusive, and even individuals in a group considered Gods among men can still fall. Or be powerless.

Brown doesn’t write drastic black and white characters, with allegiances firmly in the good or bad camps. Instead we get something closer to reality, both present day and historically. We see political machinations working underneath processes thought free of them. We get to pull back the curtain to see how leadership is often taken, rarely actually earned. This harsh reality can make for uncomfortable reading because these characters don’t follow normal tropes or formulas. Like Darrow, Brown sees the game and rips it apart.

“An empire cannot be destroyed from without till it is destroyed from within.”

I happen to like books where you might like the villain as much as the hero. Where the hero makes mistakes and isn’t perfect. Where the villain may be evil, but also holds grains of good. People are rarely all good, or all bad. They are generally made up of a million shades of both and everything in between. Brown writes his entire universe in that spectrum and it makes for an intense, bloody, and breathtaking ride.

The first time I read this, I inhaled the words. This book felt like a campaign of shock and awe. It was stunning in scope and awesome in detail. I wasn’t sure what the ride would be like a second time. Turns out, it was just as intense, but somehow, knowing what was to come made the book even more heartbreaking. I was able to really understand how fast these characters are introduced and how strongly they make an impact.

I am a huge book pusher when it comes to this series. It is unlike anything you’ve ever read. It is about power. Love. Loss. Revolution. Rebellion. Rising up and falling down. It is bloody, violent, harsh and cruel. It will show you the best of humanity and the worst. Sometimes in the same breath. And it all happens in bleeding space!

Bring it on Golden Son, because here I come!

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.

The Cottingley Secret – Review

“The soul of the fairy is its evanescence. Its charm is the eternal doubt, rose-tinted with the shadow of a hope. But the thrill is all in ourselves.”

The Cottingley Secret is part historical novel, part contemporary novel, where the two stories intersect and meet together in the end.

In 1917, two girls brought together by the Great War find a little bit of magic in the garden by their home. Frances Griffiths was ripped from her home in South Africa when her father was called to war. She and her mother move to Cottingley, England, where she and her cousin Elsie Wright become as close as sisters.

Present day introduces us to Olivia Kavanagh. Olivia finds herself back in Ireland after the death of her grandfather. She learns that she inherits his bookshop, Something Old, and with it, a number of financial problems. Somehow, her grandfather knew she would need time and space to set her course, and also leaves her a manuscript. Olivia finds herself falling into the past and reliving the grip of a nation in a frenzy over fairies.

This book is simply magical. Personally, I am a fan of books that take two different times and somehow write a compelling story that makes them relevant to each other. Something about connecting the past to the present is really appealing to me. Gaynor executes the weaving of these two times and these two stories so beautifully. Each is it’s own story, but also reliant on the other. You want to know what’s happening in both, and wonder all the way through how they are connected.

It isn’t necessarily a mystery, as enough large clues are given so that you can draw the conclusions on technical relationships. But it is the mystery of magic in both stories that make them so unique and such a pleasure to read.

“It is only by believing in magic that we can ever hope to find it.”

I didn’t know going in to this book about The Cottingley Fairies. As I was reading, I found myself going online and reading more about it. This is one of my favorite things when reading historical fiction. When an author takes real events and works them into a story. It feels so much richer to me when you read about a time, or an event, or a person and get to immerse yourself in a possibility of the past.

What I find so completely magical about this book, and about the original story, is that it really becomes less about the actual fact of the fairies and more about the idea of believing in the fairies.

“If we can believe in fairies, perhaps we can believe in anything, even in an end to this damned war. And wouldn’t that be something.”

I loved that at every turn in this book, it didn’t matter if you believed in fairies or magic or not. It became about the ability to believe in possibility. Francis needed to believe in the possibility of her father coming back. She had to wish for it, and in order to wish for something, you have to believe in magic. For Olivia, her wishes required less magic, but belief nonetheless. She needed to remember that she can be whoever she wants, and do whatever she wants. She simply needs to believe that she can.

It’s books like these that make reading so magical to me. We are always urged to grow up and to focus on reality. We forget that there’s a magic to life, even if we don’t expect fairies to greet us in every garden. There is a gift in not knowing what’s going to happen next, and we can find enormous power in simply believing that anything is possible. It’s a wonderful reminder to read a book and be gently reminded that we can create magic in our own lives every day.

“Make-believe keeps us going at times like this. We have to believe in the possibility of happy endings, sure we do, otherwise what’s it all for?”

Francis and Olivia both need to believe in their own happy endings. Which is true of all our lives. We are the bearers of our own magic. We can determine if we believe in the possibility of something, or if we can’t. And our fates will follow our beliefs. So many things we take for granted today would be considered magic centuries ago. Lights that turn on with a switch, or movement. A machine that allows us to talk to anyone in the world, anytime we want. Movies, television, phones, heat, air conditioning. These are all things no one would have dreamed of. Until someone did.

This is the magic that Gaynor brings to life in her book. It is the magic of what could be. The magic of what we can’t imagine yet. It tells a tale of fairies, yes. It weaves a story about a little girl who saw fairies and the choices she made afterwards. It is fiction, wrapped with a touch of reality. Yet it still pushes us to close our eyes and remember the days of our own youth. When we believed in magic and possibility.

Were the fairies of Cottingley real? Was it all a hoax? And, really, does the answer matter at all? Like any good story, it isn’t the details that matter. It is how we feel when we close the pages. We each have magic inside. We simply have to choose to ignite it.

Thank you BookSparks and William Morrow books for sending me a copy to read and review for FRC 2017.

The Party – Review

“The interview room is small and square.”

We begin The Party with the definitions of the word. A social gathering. A political group.  A guilty person. The wording of the title and placing these definitions in the beginning deliciously brilliant, as we know going in that this novel will be an experience on a multidimensional level.

We begin with Martin being interviewed by the police. Voluntarily. An event happened at a party weeks earlier. But we don’t get the whole story right away. We get thrown into the beginning of the night in question. When Martin and Lucy first arrived at the hotel.

Each chapter gives us insight into the characters. Told from Martin’s perspective, Lucy’s journal and the police interview, we get an alternating recount of events. Martin goes further back, explaining his friendship with Ben, the host of the party. We see into Martin’s childhood, his dysfunctional relationship with his mother and his obsessive friendship with Ben.

“I think my mother’s obsessive love for me co-existed with contempt for her own vulnerability. She was dependent on me for affection and yet she denied that she needed it. I never met her standards because I never knew what they were.”

Martin quickly shows himself to be someone not very likable. His view of the world is warped and self-centered. He is the picture of narcissistic. This is a man who uses ‘The Art of War’ to tackle personal relationships and not corporate takeovers. He is precise and controlled and unwilling to see anything but what he wants.

I found some of the most interesting parts of the book when Martin would recount an event, and then Lucy would take us through her version of events. Rarely did the two match, although Lucy seems far more reliable. This comparing of memories gives us a glimpse into how blind Martin can choose to be. How stubbornly he clings to an internal narration, despite any evidence to the contrary.

We do see moments where Martin lets the control slip. Or, rather, moments when he doesn’t understand why his version of events is abhorrent or unreasonable. These moments are just as important to understanding Martin as Lucy’s perspective. Since we are watching the night of the party unfold mainly through his eyes, we need to know if we can trust his version of events. Mostly we can, but we also know that there will be a slant to his version. Or a blunt honesty that makes us flinch.

“It strikes me as far too much effort to nurture a social conscience. Hearts were never intended to bleed.”

Lucy is hands down the most likable character in the book. She is kind and patient, and has much more depth than anyone gives her credit for. She is seen as frumpy and having no fashion sense. Yet we learn that Lucy does things just as deliberately as Martin, or Ben, or even Serena (Ben’s trophy wife).

“I knew Serena thought I had no taste – so did Martin for that matter – but it was done on purpose. I didn’t want my clothes to be the most remarkable thing about me.”

This book is written with the mystery of what happened at the party building with each page. We don’t even know who is hurt, let alone what happened, until the very end. The effect to that building mystery makes the novel read as a character examination. Rather that a who-dun-it, it becomes a who could have done it? Each memory revealing more pieces to the puzzle that are necessary to trying to solve the mystery.

The possibilities seem endless as we read, learning about the financial power of Ben’s family, the Fitzmaurice’s. Martin more than a best friend, but nearly an adopted brother. Yet there is distance between Ben and Martin. Or is it a rising tension?

Whatever happened, we know that it must have been one hell of a party. Someone in the hospital. Police investigating. Lucy separated from Martin and in treatment. Our imaginations run wild with horrific possibility over what could have transpired.

“Sometimes the entire course of your life can change because of a single second, because that single second doesn’t exist in isolation: it is connected to an infinite chain of minutes, days, weeks, months and years that have gone before.”

The examination of past and present becomes necessary to understand the moment at the party that culminated into these mysterious consequences. We need to understand the character of all parties involved in order to assess the outcome.

The Party is a lesson in social conformity and expectation. We all want to be seen and heard by our peers, by our spouses, by our families. We want to be accepted and lauded for our accomplishments. We are attracted to the rich and the famous for their ease in all of social settings, and for the ease in which they gather achievements. Martin is no different, though he is a bit more sociopathic about it. Ben is wealthy and charming, and Martin is drawn to his flame. It is Lucy who gives us the grounding we need.

“That’s the problem with charm. It means you get away with stuff. It means you never have to develop a real character because no one remembers to look for one. They’re too busy basking in the glow of your attention. They’re too busy being impressed.”

The ending to this novel is satisfying and yet still disturbing. I don’t want to ruin the mystery, as part of the fun is trying to picture what horrific event could have transpired at a party for the rich and famous. It is shocking, and not shocking. It makes you feel vindication and satisfaction, but then you pull back, because maybe you shouldn’t.

A very interesting examination into social status and relationships. You’ll consider how we view the wealthy. How their choices are so different from people outside of that social stratosphere. And how that desire to be a part of that social circle can become twisted and all-encompassing. Can that obsession change who we are? Can it change what we do?

You won’t be able to stop reading until you find out: what happened at The Party?

Thank you Little, Brown for sending me a copy to read and review.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – Review

“Anything is possible,” I said. “But most things are unlikely.”

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is an epic, all-encompassing story spanning the life of Cyril Avery. Cyril is adopted, “not a real Avery”, as his adopted parent’s Charles and Maude often remind him, growing up in the 1950’s in Ireland. Even though his adoptive parent’s remind him, (quite frequently), of his adoptive status, Cyril doesn’t find himself neglected, or even uncared for. He is simply a participant in an odd family.

Cyril knows he is different. It isn’t just his relationship to his adoptive parents. He is quiet and shy and has a stutter. But nothing life shattering sets him apart. Until Charles ends up arrested and goes to trial for tax evasion. This normally wouldn’t have anything to do with Cyril, no more than natural consequences would provide. However, as fate would have it, this brings Julian Woodbead into Cyril’s life, which sparks his trajectory down a new, frightening path altogether.

“And a moment later I realized I didn’t feel shy around him at all. And that my stutter had gone.”

Even though the interaction between the two boys is brief, it is emblazoned into Cyril’s young mind. And while most boys begin to dream of girls, Cyril finds himself dreaming of Julian. Years later, when another twist of fate brings Julian to the same school, and Cyril’s new roommate, his love for his friend cements firmly and stubbornly into his soul; and launches a complicated, lifelong friendship.

“But for all that we had, for all the luxury to which we were accustomed, we were both denied love, and this deficiency would be scorched into our future lives like an ill-considered tattoo inscribed on the buttocks after a drunken night out, leading each of us inevitably toward isolation and disaster.”

Growing up during that time period as a gay man was difficult most places in the world. In Catholic, conservative Ireland, it is near impossible. We feel the fear as Cyril walks through parks and pubs, terrified of being beaten and subsequently arrested by the Garda for simply trying to find companionship. We feel the guilt and confusion of wanting to be “normal”. We feel the exhaustion of constantly living a double life and maintaining a constant lie.

Boyne writes so beautifully, it is easy to hear the Irish lilt in their dialogue and feel the depth of Cyril’s emotions. There is a sharp humor in these characters. With all their dysfunction, Charles and Maude are entertaining people who you have to laugh at since they seem to be incapable of seeing the ridiculousness of their ways. And Cyril himself is very funny without trying, or in some instances, even meaning to be.

This is a beast of a book, and yet I read it easily in a few days. This is a book where you fall completely in love with the characters, and get lost in the drama of their lives. Cyril, for all his flaws and mistakes, is very likable. He makes some very wrong choices, but it would be difficult to say anyone would make different ones given the same set of circumstances.

“We all fall in the shit many times during our lives. The trick is pulling ourselves out again.”

And while this is such a beautiful book, make no mistake, it will rip your heart out. Because you will feel the cruel underside of human nature deeply and profoundly in these pages. You will feel what it is to be hated simply for who you are. To be afraid for your life. To be on the receiving end of bigotry. It isn’t easy to bear. For all the warmth and humor and wit, there is an sharp wrenching pain as well.

Which is why these characters and this book will stay with you. It is reminiscent of life. Sometimes funny, sometimes warm, sometimes lonely, sometimes painful. And yet, overall, very full and rich and full of meaning.

Throughout Cyril’s life, we also get to witness monumental shifts in society. We see the impact of the IRA, the horrific terror of the early days of AIDS, the historic vote to grant marriage to all. We see how attitudes towards homosexuals varied from openly accepting in Amsterdam to barely veiled contempt in America.

But for each shift in time, each life lesson that Cyril experiences, for better or for worse, he grows as a person. He begins to learn to accept his mistakes and his failures. Learns to forgive, himself and those who have wronged him. He learns to accept himself. And it is in this acceptance that he finds not just peace, but acceptance in return.

“Maybe there were no villains in my mother’s story at all. Just men and women, trying to do their best by each other. And failing.”

Sometimes life doesn’t give us villains wrapped in a nice, black bow. Sometimes we are presented with good people who make terrible decisions in the name of the greater good. Sometimes we get people just trying to live the only way they know how.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies will remind you that life is sometimes hard. That we don’t always know what we’re doing. That we will make some great decisions and some terrible ones with inconsequential ones strung in between. We will have fond memories and regrets. But the most important thing is to live. To continue to move forward, and try every day to live better than the last.

There are some amazing life lessons wrapped in this plot. Lessons on forgiveness and acceptance, yes. But also lessons on how to let go of this illusion of control we imagine we have over our lives. Charles and Maude showcase the best examples of this. Julian shows us the lesson of friendship and love, while Alice allows us to see how to let go of hurt and forgive. And throughout it all, Mrs. Goggin let’s us see how to let go of regret. Cyril, of course, comes wrapped with all of these and more.

Easily one of the top five books I’ve read in 2017, I would recommend this book to anyone. Be ready to fall in love. To laugh. To cry. I wish I could do the eloquence of this book justice, but I don’t know that I can. All I can do is urge you to pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

Thank you Hogarth Books and Blogging for Books for sending me this book to read and review.

The Reminders – Review

“That’s how it is with people’s brains. There’s only enough room for the most important memories and the rest gets thrown away.”

Joan Lennon Sully is a ten year old girl, normal in every way except one. She was born with a rare ability to remember most days of her life. It isn’t photographic memory where she can recall every little thing. But most memories and days are as easy to recall in her mind as playing a video on YouTube. Her dad is a musician and her mom is a teacher, and to Joan, nothing is more important than writing a song so that the world remembers her the way she remembers the world. That and saving the family studio.

Gavin Winters is a long-time family friend to the Sully family. When tragedy strikes his partner, all Gavin wants to do is burn everything that reminds him of Sydney. So he does. In the backyard. In front of the entire country.

Needing an escape, he flees across the country and finds refuge with the Sully’s. But refuge isn’t exactly what Gavin thought it would be. Because he finds that while he wants nothing more than to forget everything about Sydney, he also can’t stand how much he misses him. So when Joan offers him a bargain, her memories for his song-writing help, an alliance is born.

“And I hardly noticed that somewhere along the line, I had adopted a trusted sidekick.”

I cannot capture how much I loved this novel. It is so sweet and heartfelt and genuine. I was moved to tears multiple times by the raw honesty that Emmich captures in his characters. Parents struggling to find their way, not just as parents but as adults moving through their careers and life. A little girl trying to figure out how to fit in when her ability makes it so hard. And a man, struggling through the pain and heartache of grief, so intense you feel the loss of his partner in every page.

As Gavin relives each Sydney experience through Joan, he also faces a hard truth. What if his quest for more uncovers something he doesn’t want to know? Grief takes us on strange journeys. We want to relive our memories, and hear everything everyone has to say. But at the same time, we want to close that piece of ourselves off, because it’s too painful, too big, too hard.

“He seldom opened his mouth at home and yet he managed to take so much sound with him when he died.”

People in our lives leave so much more than a physical absence when they die. They close the door to possibility. This sentence to me is so bittersweet and beautiful, because it captures that gaping hole and the silent slam of that door. No more will he walk in the room, or answer the phone, or snore. The emptiness isn’t only emotional, it’s visceral and physical and real.

But rather than end up with a novel that is heavy with grief, Emmich added Joan. Her chapters are full of the vibrancy that a ten year child would have. She is smart and capable and so funny.

“I’m learning that when Gavin says something nice, there’s always something else that comes after it, so I think from now on, I need to listen to only the first thing he says and then quickly run out of the room.”

Her sharp observations about what adults do will have you laughing, not just at her, but often at yourself. It is this exact vibrancy that Gavin sees and can’t stay away from. She is his gateway to a view of Sydney no one else can give him, but she is also a window into the world beyond grief. She helps bring him back to life and reminds him that life does go on.

The blend between aching grief and lighthearted tenderness is so well done. Everything is this book is so raw and honest, and yet written in such a way that you find yourself smiling throughout, even in the hardest moments.

My other favorite thing about this book is that it isn’t cynical or bitter. That isn’t to say that Emmich doesn’t dive into some deep topics, or that he shies away from exploring heavy emotion. But it is so well balanced that you don’t feel burdened or bought down by it. After reading several thrillers, this book was exactly what I needed, and I am so happy I got to know Joan and Gavin.

Ok, so I lied, I actually have another favorite thing: the music. Watching the lyrics to the song Gavin and Joan write together was amazing to read. And to get the different perspectives and thoughts on music and how it impacts our lives was so interesting.

Gavin’s struggle is one that is more relatable on the surface, grief has impacted us all on some level in our lives. But even Joan is written so well that her struggles becomes easy to identify with as well. Joan’s memory makes her stand apart, and while people think that she’s special, this ability actually makes her life difficult. She takes memory incredibly personally and gets frustrated that people don’t remember things as vividly as she does, if they remember the event at all. And this is what makes music so important to Joan. The fact that it makes people memorable. It’s long lasting and survives the frailty of people’s memories.

“To win the contest I’ll need a song that make people want to dance or cry. Those are the two strongest feelings music can give you. When people dance they forget and when they cry they remember.”

She is terrified that she’ll be forgotten, and to her, that is the worst fate.

The author, Val Emmich, is actually a musician, and you can feel and hear that throughout the novel. He even wrote the actual song that Gavin and Joan write. If you listen to the audio version, you get to hear it. And no worries! If audio books aren’t your thing, you can find it HERE Listening to the song makes the book come alive in such a beautiful way, I encourage everyone to listen after they’ve finished!

This was easily the most beautiful book I’ve read in 2017. It is tender and loving and so full of life, these adjectives simply can’t do it justice. I really think this is a book that will find it’s way into your heart and you won’t regret reading it!

Thank you so much to Little, Brown for hosting the contest to chat with the author! I won and that interview, along with a chance to win an awesome prize, will be up SOON!!!!!! Stay tuned…..

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined – Review

“This whole trip could have been set up to prove it to me once and for all. Life isn’t fair, and anything is possible.”

Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined is a stunning book. It so fully captures the heartbreaking nature of living. The depth and warmth and aching beauty of this book will stay with me for a long, long time.

Ingrid grew up listening to her mother sing. They traveled throughout Europe and her mother always encouraged her to follow her dreams and believe in herself. Until that career came to an unexpected end, and they moved into a smaller, more normal life.

“We believed in hard work, but we also believed in magic.”

Somehow, years later, Ingrid finds herself thrown into a summertime wilderness survival trip, made in a strange negotiation with her mother in order to go to the school of her dreams. The magic her mother believed in, that she taught Ingrid to believe in, had disappeared. To have to prove her determination to follow her dreams, to her own mother, is unbelievable to Ingrid. She treks into the wilderness feeling alone but simmering with an anger that makes her more determined than ever.

I adored Ingrid. Adored her! If I had known her as a teenager, we probably would have been friends. She is smart, and funny, and quirky. But she also has had an artist for a mother. An artist who wasn’t always as stable and reliant and motherly as she needed. As a result, she is a very adult teenager. But still a teenager. She swings between emotions whiplash quick at times. She feels the magic of first love and finding her passion, but also feels the fear children feel when parents behave in odd and unpredictable ways.

It’s hard sometimes to capture the tumultuous nature of adolescence. Or, at least to capture an aspect of it that can be relatable to a wide audience. Not everyone lived an unstable life growing up. Or had emotional issues. Or problems with the law. And often, we find main characters struggling through some sort of extreme in many YA novels.

And don’t get me wrong. Ingrid is struggling through some heavy issues. But the way Young-Ullman draws us into the story, through a series of journal letters, flashes to the past and narration of the current story, we get to know Ingrid before we understand what happened. I really liked that, because especially in a situation like a wilderness survival trip, that is how we get to know people. True, this is more intimate, but it is still a relationship that develops slowly. With each letter, with each flash to the past, you can’t help but feel for Ingrid. She may have grown up in a glamorous setting, in a privileged way, but that doesn’t mean it has been easy for her.

I haven’t specifically been through a trip like Ingrid’s. But I have been through plenty of therapy, group included, and these often included group interaction in activities like ropes courses and problem solving and other similar activities that Pat and Bonnie lead this group through. If the author hadn’t been through some sort of similar experience, I would be shocked because she absolutely nailed it. The frustration, and embarrassment, and fear, and even the close friendships that can develop.

These types of therapies are popular for a variety of reasons. And sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I happen to agree with Ingrid in many of her assessments and reactions, but not everyone will. However, even if you don’t agree, or haven’t been through any similar activities, I think everyone will relate to Ingrid, on some level. The author did an excellent job of balancing this piece of the novel; however, and the result shows you the good and the bad.

I also loved how the author used Pat and Bonnie to demonstrate the fine line therapies like this can walk. They represent the different theories and approaches that these programs can take. I loved the other participants in these programs. They were all very vivd characters, full of refreshing depth. Writing a variety of at-risk youth in a way that makes them feel well-developed and real isn’t easy, and was done incredibly well. Honestly, everything was solid and realistic.

Everything Beautiful is such a beautiful book. We all struggle through heartbreak and grief in our lives. Sometimes we are young, sometimes we are old, and while each experience is unique to the circumstance, the raw power of those emotions are so similar in us all. We feel Ingrid’s pain, her anger, her stubbornness. We watch as the solitude of this experience forces her to face the things she doesn’t want to face.

Nature has always been a source of centering and a way to find yourself. Getting lost in the balance of nature forces us to face ourselves in the most raw way. I loved how this setting was used to peel away the layers of Ingrid and her own stubborn nature. Sometimes we need extreme measures to face extreme emotions, and this novel captured every detail of this extremeness perfectly.

“In your eyes you look better. Fast rivers and slow forests seem to agree with you.”

Ingrid isn’t cured, or fixed, or healed by the end. Nothing about this novel was cliche or predictable or boring. I felt the entire time that I was experiencing the life of a teenage girl, struggling through a difficult time, and finding some understanding but no real answers. Which I absolutely loved.

By the end, my heart ached for Ingrid. Not in a heartbreaking way, although there is heartbreak on many levels in this book. But heartbreaking in the way growing up always is. Our hearts break a million different tiny ways in our lives, and a handful of big ways. They break and they heal and we are stronger for it.

“Instead I stand under the giant sky counting stars, feeling scared and raw, but at the same time full, fierce, open.”

I highly, highly recommend this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began, and flew through it. Ingrid found her way into my heart. Danielle Young-Ullman is an author I will definitely be reading more of!

Thank you to Xpresso Book Tours for sending me this book to read and review in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

#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!