Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review: On Being Insane

Book Review: On Being Insane: In Search of my Missing Pieces by Elliot Gavin Keenan

Goodreads Description: After being diagnosed with Asperger's Disorder at age seven, Elliot becomes fascinated with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the Bible of American psychiatry) and its enumeration, categorization, and systematization of innate human differences. This specialized knowledge of the DSM's rules and codes comes in handy as Elliot struggles through multiple psychiatric hospitalizations for severe bipolar depression, but his dreams of being a clinical psychologist seem ever further out of reach until a kindly professor and autism scientist termed herein as Dr. Pinball takes notice of his abilities. This is a story of one young man's searching: for sanity, for stability, and for the people who understand. They may be found in unlikely places.

My Review: Books like this are so hard to explain for me. They are about everything and nothing, about something so personal and at the same time universal, that it makes pinning down exactly what the book is about difficult. On Being Insane is a memoir of the author's experience of growing up with autism and how that affected his journey towards a career in mental health. But there's so much more going on than just that. Keenan is transgender, has bipolar disorder as well as autism, and deals with multiple hospitalizations. He asks some big questions, like whether or not people with mental illnesses can actually work as mental health professionals, which he approaches with such a raw honesty and sincerity that it tugs at the heartstrings. 

As far as the linear progression of the book, it can be sometimes hard to follow, as the author jumps around in the timeline a bit in a way that made it easy to lose track of what happened when. The book isn't written as a straight dirty details, tell-all kind of memoir, and instead focuses on the feelings of events rather than explaining the full situation. Even his goodbye scene with JS, who is a major character and influence in his life, left me a little confused as to what happened between them that made them part ways. I can understand the artistic intent around shying away from the details and focusing on feeling, and in a lot of ways it works really well, so I am a little torn. I do feel that a little more information and clarification could have gone a long way.

As for the writing itself... wow! The book is so beautifully written, and filled with such poignant observations that I was often writing down passages in my quote book. Even with the non-linear narrative, his message comes through loud and clear, and we're given a hopeful look at life with mental illness. All the parts of it come together in such a beautiful way, from all the characters portrayed to the descriptive observations and use of metaphor, such as the descriptions of the fake grass outside the hospital. The pieces compound into a really great look into what it feels like to live with autism, which I think would make this an awesome read for anyone interested in/works with mental illness, has autism, or wants to gain a little more insight into what life with a disorder is like. 

All in all, this was a really beautiful book that has forged its own place in my heart. I can't exactly articulate what about it is so wonderful, other than while reading it, I just kept thinking, "Me too, me too, me too..." 

TL;DR: 4/5 stars. An incredibly heartfelt memoir of Keenan's life with autism and his journey towards working in the mental health field. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Release Day Blitz: 20 Shades of Shifter

Hey all! The 20 SHADES OF SHIFTERS ANTHOLOGY released on February 14th, and I'm stoked to share the release day blitz with you all in partnership with Rockstar Book Tours! 

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful box set, be sure to check out all the details below.

This blitz also includes a giveaway for a $25 Amazon Gift Card (where Amazon is located), courtesy of author K.L. Bone and Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

About The Book:

Author: Demelza Carlton, Evelyn Lederman, ML Guida, Aidy Award, Carmen Fox, David Adams, Sascha Illyvich, Lynn Best, Lilly Cain, Emma Alisyn, Vonnie Davis, Brenda Trim and Tami Julka, Nina Croft, K.L. Bone, Natalie Jones, Kailin Gow, Moxie North
Pub. Date: February 14, 2018
Publisher: Laudanum House
Pages: 511
Formats: eBook
Find it: Amazon, Goodreads

Order now for only $1.99! Or read for FREE on Kindle Unlimited!
20 Shades of Shifter is a limited-edition collection of new and exclusive paranormal romance novels guaranteed to suck in you from page one. 

A shape-shifting dragon must win over his reluctant mate and stop Jack the Ripper. A Fae trucker becomes allies with an MC member when trying to deliver magical motorcycles to the Fae Queen. A wolf shifter is held captive in a human research lab where he is tortured until he meets one sexy scientist. An angel risked it all to steal the elixir of life and save his mortal love’s life and over two millennia later must get her to remember she once loved an angel. These stories and many more are included in this steamy, hot collection. 

Don’t wait to read this set. It is only out for a short time before it will be gone forever! 

Demelza Carlton 
Evelyn Lederman 
ML Guida 
Aidy Award 
Carmen Fox 
David Adams 
Sascha Illyvich 
Lynn Best 
Lilly Cain 
Emma Alisyn 
Vonnie Davis 
Brenda Trim and Tami Julka 
Nina Croft 
K.L. Bone 
Natalie Jones 
Kailin Gow 
Moxie North 

Excerpt from one of the books in the Box Set:
Embracing the Dragon:
The Flames of Kalleen

By: K.L. Bone

Ash fell from the sky, blanketing the charred ground like cascading snow. Amelia stretched out her fingers, finding the burnt residue cool against her pale skin, lacking the heat responsible for the land’s horrific transformation. As she searched the valley for the conflagration’s source, or any living being, toxic particles coated her lungs with each labored breath.

Normally this lush region would have been filled with the merry songs of chittering birds, and the scattering rustle of creatures hidden amid the tall grass. As she walked the field, the only sounds were the crunch of charred vegetation, and her occasional cough as her chest attempted to expel the smoke-laden air.

She scanned the horizon, seeking flames. Gloomy air surrounded her, with smoke so thick she couldn’t even discern the fire’s glow through its suffocating layers.

Amelia pushed forward, drawing shallow breaths as more particles lined her throat, turning coughs to occasional gags as she reached what should have been the forest’s edge. In place of towering trees, she found blackened stumps. Her heart skipped at the sight, her mind rejecting the ruined vision of the land she had loved.

“What happened?” she asked the desolate terrain. “What, by the gods, took place here?”

She had cherished this land with its lush shrubbery, thick enough to hide even her darkest secrets. A place all were once welcomed to enjoy shaded comfort, perfumed by the sweet scent of fresh grass and wildflowers. Now, only cooling embers remained.

When she reached the clearing’s center, a pitiful squeak drew her attention. She knelt, brushing her hand through ash and soot to find a bird chirping meekly between desperate gasps. Gently cradling the suffering creature between her hands, Amelia closed her eyes.

As though anticipating her intentions, the wren remained motionless against her palms, and its labored breathing eased.

Settling her mind upon the bird, soft-blue light emanated from between her fingers, bathing the unremarkable brown feathers in cerulean light. As Amelia’s power drew out the toxins poisoning the delicate creature, it first flapped its wings, and then flew from Amelia’s hands.

“Fly away,” she urged. “The air remains poisonous.”

The bird chirped in thanks before fluttering away, though Amelia was uncertain as to the safety of its chosen direction.

She resumed her survey of the ruined forest, helping a struggling squirrel in the same manner she had the bird. As it scampered away, Amelia stood and attempted to brush the soot from her hands, but only managed to smudge the fine black powder.

Without audible warning, orange flames surged toward her, forcing Amelia to jump to her left, rolling through the fire’s debris, hands and knees stinging as they encountered hidden rocks.

A roar resounded, shattering the unnatural silence as Amelia glanced toward the sky to face a looming figure.

Above, darker than the choking smoke, hovered an immense beast, its wingspan casting a wide shadow over her curled form. The deep purple wings had a feathered appearance, glowing with what appeared to be golden flames, though they did not burn. Instead the menacing creature’s wings fanned hotter, reminding Amelia of a forge fire amplified by a blacksmith’s bellow. From an ebony body, its back feet were hooved, but its front arms had claws similar to a bird’s, while larger talons protruded from the outer tips of both wings. A terrifying creature of utter destruction.

The dragon stared down with glinting silver eyes, glowing nostrils framing the fire within. With each methodical beat of its wings, Amelia’s blonde tresses were alternately tugged and blown back in the wash of hot air.

Fear consumed her, stole her breath, and froze every thought. She briefly considered running, but knew she would never escape the creature’s wrath.

Shakily, Amelia climbed to her feet, her blue eyes wide as she waited for her inevitable fate. The dragon’s jaws opened, flames spilling to engulf the girl below before she could even utter a scream.

Embracing the Dragon Copyright © 2017 by K.L. Bone

Giveaway Details: All International
1 winner will receive a $25 Amazon Gift Card (where Amazon is located), International

Ends on February 21st at Midnight EST!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Release Day Blitz: The Leak of Madness

I am so excited to bring you guys a release day celebration for THE LEAK OF MADNESS by Alice J. Black which is now avalable!

If you haven’t yet heard about this wonderful book by Author Alice J. Black, be sure to check out all the details below.

This blitz also includes a giveaway for 10 eBook copies of THE LEAK OF MADNESS, International, courtesy of Parliament House Publishing and Rockstar Book Tours. So if you’d like a chance to win, enter in the Rafflecopter at the bottom of this post.

About The Book:

Title: THE LEAK OF MADNESS (Soul Seekers, #1)
Author: Alice J. Black
Pub. Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: The Parliament House
Pages: ?
Formats: eBook
Find it: GoodreadsAmazon, Kobo

The spirit world has been in touch with Peyton, and it’s more than she can tolerate. Sometimes their messages are loud enough even to pierce beyond the veil of her alcohol-induced stupors.

When she is invited to attend her best friend's brother’s wedding at The Manor House, Peyton is compelled to stare down memories of her life before it was decimated by fire and tragedy. Continuously topping herself up with alcohol to keep the voices at bay, it becomes clearer and clearer that there are forces at work in the old building…shadows darker than Peyton could have ever imagined.

The Leak of Madness is the beginning of a thrilling, fast-paced series of horror novellas overflowing with intrigue, romance, redemption, and most importantly…ghosts.

Will Peyton find the normal life she could have if only she stops drinking or will the forces of evil drive her mad?

Book Trailer:

Exclusive Excerpt:

“What would the lady like?” he asked as he stood behind the bar, waving at the bottles in their optics.
Little did he know how much each of those bottles appealed. Like a kid choosing candy in a store, I was transported back to my first drink, stolen from my dad's cabinet. That one had been whiskey. 

Back then, I took whatever I could get. Now I was old enough—and I might argue wise enough—to choose my own poison.

“Do you know,” I started as I leaned over the bar, looking between the man and the bottles. He really was a good-looking guy. “That you’re giving me reason to give in to temptation.”

His smile widened. “Hey, if I didn't ply you with alcohol, what sort of bar man would I be?”

I grinned as he continued to watch me. This guy still wore the label of lad, and he was cute, but I had a couple of years on him. Still, age wasn’t everything. “See the thing is,” I started again. “My friend doesn't like it when I drink.”

“And is your friend your keeper?” He raised his brow.

“No, but see, that's my point. This has to be a secret.”

“Secret.” He leaned in conspiratorially and I couldn’t help but inhale the deep scent of his aftershave. 

“I like secrets.”

About Alice:
I’m an author in the North East of England where I live with my partner and overly-ferocious cat. I have been writing for as long as I can remember mostly in the dark genres but recently, I have expanded into other genres (such as young adult). My cupboard is stocked with an array of different and funky notebooks (because you can never have too many). My inspiration tends to come from a lot of different places but my first novel and a lot of my ideas come from my rather vivid dreams (which my partner tells me I tell him about as I’m still dreaming!)

Giveaway Details: International
10 winners will receive an eBook of THE LEAK OF MADNESS, open international.

Ends on February 13th at Midnight EST!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, January 29, 2018

Book Review: Vassa In The Night

 Book Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter 

Goodreads Description: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

My Review: In an alternate Brooklyn, the nights are stretching longer and no one is sure why. The clocks stay the same, but each minute drags on, until even the non-magical residents of the city begin to grow restless. Vassa tries to make it through the long nights living with her step-mother and step-sisters with her best friend, Erg, a wooden doll her mother gave her on her deathbed that walks and talks back and eats everything she can get her hands on. After a fight with her sisters, Vassa takes off on a self-destructive mission to BY's, the magical convenience store that dances on chicken legs and whose employees gleefully behead shoplifters. After Erg saves her from being framed for shoplifting, Vassa is forced to work for Babs Yagg, the witch in charge of BY's, for three long nights. Vassa's nights in BY's quickly become about more than just surviving, and she begins to believe she was sent there for a reason: to put an end to Babs once and for all.

Wow. What a book, kids. VASSA IN THE NIGHT is everything you've heard it is. It's weird, it's wacky, it's all over the place, and it's beautiful. The book is based off a Russian folk tale, and like all good folktales, this whole story is a metaphor, which can sometimes be frustrating for people looking for a more typical A to B story. There are a lot of weird things in the book that most readers are able to accept-- a wooden doll that eats, stores on chicken legs, disembodied hands, witches-- but once the story veers off into trying to explain big weirdness, I can see how some readers get lost, such as with Babs' reality bending bedroom or freeing a piece of captured night weirdly personified. It's not necessarily to everyone's taste, but I felt like all this weirdness tied together by the end. As I said, this story itself is a metaphor for growing up, grief, and finding your place in the world. We really see that through Erg and her final role in the story. At its core, the story is about Vassa getting over the loss of her mom, fully grieving for her, and accepting her home with her step-sisters.

The characters themselves were all really well done. Erg was so likable and fun, Vassa was brave and headstrong, even Babs is just a lonely old woman locked away in a psychopath. The hands-- even the freakin' hands had personalities distinct from one another, which was pretty impressive considering how limited they were in communication. The only thing that tripped me up was a bit of inconsistent characterization for Vassa in regards to her voice. At the beginning of the book, we see Vassa charging off into BY's to buy light bulbs, a self-destructive move fueled by her anger at her sister, which is rooted in deeper insecurities she has about not feeling welcome in her own home. It's totally believable as a teenager move-- impulsive, self-destructive, emotional. My issue came later, when Vassa is working the cash and several of her classmates enter BY's to go 'shopping,' taunting the disembodied hands trying to frame them for shoplifting with sewn up pockets. Vassa is highly judgmental in this scene, thinking that what they're doing is reckless and stupid. She does admit that her own actions were reckless and stupid as well, and that she's probably being a hypocrite, but it doesn't stop her from being angry. This emotional response and the way she thinks about the shoppers... doesn't jive with me. It's incredibly hypocritical for one, and most teenagers aren't complete hypocrites when they have the maturity that Vassa has, and for two it feels more like the judgmental thinking of an adult rather than a kid. She dissects their actions with a depth that she shied away from during reflection on her own situation. If she was just being a hypocrite, there would be no issue, but this sudden contempt doesn't make much sense within the rest of the story, and the scene sticks out like a sore thumb to me.

As for plot, tension? Both flow smoothly. The beginning especially is really well set up, and we begin with a movie-like zoom in effect where we slowly narrow in on the scene until we reach Vassa. From there, we get an excellent sense of setting and plot, and after Vassa has settled into her job of working at the store, the real weirdness begins. Vassa undergoes three night's worth of trials, slowly collecting allies that help her attempt to overthrow Babs. The writing all throughout was incredible, and often times I felt like I was reading one long poem. I know some readers complain about purple prose, and if you're one of them then you're better off avoiding this book. This book is a love letter to writing, and doesn't shy away from flowery prose or metaphor stacked upon metaphor. The book is called dark, and while I don't exactly agree with that label, it is definitely gory at times, with people being decapitated and their heads put on stakes, and several characters being chopped into literal pieces. So if you can get squeamish, keep in mind there is violence, even if it is minor.

TL;DR: All in all, 4/5 stars. A weird and lyrical story of a girl finding her place in the wake of her mother's death, coloured with beautiful Russian folklore.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Cover Reveal: DARK EMBRACE

Hey all, I'm excited today, in partnership with Rockstar Book Tours, to bring you the cover reveal for Elle Boon's DARK EMBRACE, a paranormal romance that releases on February 8. Check out the gorgeous new cover as well as an excerpt from the book, then enter to win an Amazon gift card for $10. Covers, sneak peaks, and free treats. Talk about a win, win, win. 

On to the reveal! 

Title: DARK EMBRACE (The Dark Legacy Series, #1)
Author: Elle Boon
Pub. Date: February 8, 2018
Publisher: Elle Boon
Formats: eBook
Pages: ?
Find it:  Goodreads, iBooks, B&N, Kobo  

A DARK LEGACY where only the strong survive and those who are Goddess touched can complete the warriors who fight to protect the world from the creatures that go bump in the night.


Jennaveve, the Fey chosen by the Goddess to be the queen of her people for the past few millennium, is tired and wishes for a break, but hadn’t counted on being reduced to almost mortal thanks to a dark stranger. They say you should be careful what you wish for. The last time she’d taken a break, her Fey had left their realm, resulting in shifters on Earth known as the Mystic and Iron Wolves and even more she was still searching for.

Damien and Lucas Cordell knew they’d share a Hearts Love when the time came. As the twin sons of the Vampire King who’d mated a shifter, they were the first of their kind. When they’d thought their mate was finally within their reach and was a shifter like their mother only to realize she wasn’t theirs, they’d almost lost their lives to the alpha of the Iron Wolves, Kellen Styles. Instead, the error led them to the being that was…the Fey Queen Jennaveve. Only she was even more elusive than the wind.

Time and patience was something Damien and Lucas had in spades, until the female they’d already laid claim to, even if she hadn’t accepted them yet, was taken by an enemy. Saving Jenna became their one and only focus. As time and realms slip between them, their fear for her had them forgetting about patience and made claiming Jenna as their Hearts Love, hoping she accepted their Dark Embrace.

Will the Cordell Twins be able to rescue Jenna from the evil who has taken her? Will Jenna get her powers back? Who is the dark presence and how will they defeat a being who is strong enough to bring the Fey Queen down to her knees?

Lyric’s Accidental Mate, Iron Wolves Book 1 is a crossover series with the first book being FREE

Exclusive Excerpt!

They both turned as one toward the door as a commotion swirled into the room.

“What have you done?” Raina asked.

Lucas looked at the tall man who followed behind their sister, waiting to see what Creed, the son of Satan, had to say. Hellboy himself would be a good one to have on their side. “Shit, how’d you get in?” he asked as realization dawned.

Damien flashed to his sister. “Where did you come from?” He held her by the arms, giving her a little shake.

A deep rumble came from Creed. “Boy, I suggest you unhand my Eros, or I’ll remove your arms from your body.”

Lucas came to stand next to his brother. “Our Hearts Love is missing along with our father. We’ve been locked into this fucking castle and you two just strolled in like it’s nothing. We just want to know if you can get us out.” The last was yelled at a decibel that bordered on a roar, but Lucas was at the zero fucks giving point.

“You got two seconds before I start dismembering your brother. Tell him to get his fingers, palms, and any other body part off my Raina if he wants to keep them.” Creed’s voice had become the deep tone of his demon side.

“Damien, you might want to take a step back before we have to rumble with our brother-in-law in front of baby sis here. Raina, please answer the damn question while our brother is letting you go. Now, Damien, release her.” He put as much order behind the last part, hoping to reach his twin, but he’d never seen his twin’s eyes turn such a dark obsidian like their father’s.

Raina wrapped her arms around their brother, stilling Creed from going killer beast. “Damien, calm down. We popped in like we always do. I felt mama’s distress and told Creed I needed to visit. He of course insisted he come with. When we got here I couldn’t find her, so I followed you two morons’ scents. There’s another, not quite the same, but familiar smell here too.” Her voice shook, the slight tremor more an indication of her rising worry. She released Damien and went to the same corner. “It’s like dad but toned down.”

“Can you track him?” Damien asked.

“No,” Creed growled.

“He took Jennaveve and our father went after him, alone. He’s our…brother,” Damien said in a barely there whisper.

Raina spun to face them, her hand going to her throat. “What?”

Creed flashed to her side. “She will not be your sniffing dog.”

“Our father has another son. Goddess, its messed up to even say that. He’s the one who hurt Jenna. He nearly killed her the last time he had his hands on her. Somehow that…bastard traced her back here and took her out from under our noses. Now, our father is tracking them alone while we stand here arguing. We can’t breach these walls, but you two can. You can sense him, Raina. Please.” Lucas held his hand out, holding the pillow with Jenna’s scent still on it.

“That’s why mother is hurting.” She moved forward, a tear slipping down her cheek. “Creed, I can’t stand here and do nothing when my family is falling apart.”

“Damn it, I knew this family stuff was going to be a pain in my ass.” Creed jerked the fabric out of Lucas’s hand. “It’s the Fey Queen. I can scent her as well. We go together, all of us on one condition.”

Lucas and Damian nodded, waiting.

“I’m in charge and Raina is not to be harmed.”

“Hellboy, you can call all the shots as long as we find our Love.” There was nothing he wouldn’t 
agree to in order to find Jenna.

“I’m so going to regret this.” Creed dropped his chin to his chest.

Raina turned to face Creed.

Damien pointed at the two. “No making out with our sister in front of us. Save it for the bedroom. Let’s go people, times a wasting.” He changed into all black clothing, and although his words were teasing, the hardness behind the tone was anything but.

“Can I eat them?” Creed asked.

Raina shook her head. “You promised to be nice to my family.”

“Can I let Liv eat them?”

Their sister snorted. “No, you told her she couldn’t do that either. Come on, boys. Let’s get this party started.”

Lucas focused on Jenna’s sweet smile and promised himself they’d have her tucked between them soon. When he opened his eyes, his brother was staring with that same single minded intent on his face. “We’ll get her back and make sure she can’t escape without one of us always knowing where she’s at.”

Raina snorted. “You two will learn, a woman like Jenna won’t take to being caged or coddled.”

He met Creed’s dark stare. “How’s that working for you, Hellboy?”

Creed lifted his middle finger. “You still wanting a way out of here, or we gonna sling insults back and forth? Believe me, your little nickname is nothing compared to the things I’ve been through and trust me, boy, I’ve definitely had much bigger beings say much nastier things than that to me.”

Instant regret punched him in the gut. “Damn it, I’m sorry man. You’re right. Hellboy isn’t meant to be a…bad thing. Shit! I like you and I think you’re great for our sister.”

His sister’s mate tilted his head and nodded. “Good enough. Let’s go. One big circle like…well, one big happy family.”

Damien groaned. “Son of a bitch, not you, too.”

Their sister clapped like she was proud to be part of the crazy, wrapping one arm around Creed and held the other out. He moved forward, slipping his hand in hers, waiting for Damien to grab onto his other one.

Once they formed a circle, Creed’s lips formed a straight line. “Here we go boys and my girl.”

Darkness came quickly. The opulent bedroom replaced by a forest that had gone eerily quiet. Creed moved next to Raina, waving his hand around her, changing the sexy dress she’d had on into all black, making her resemble a character from the movie Underworld. He didn’t have time to question the man as they all seemed to notice the unnatural quietness.

“Anyone know exactly where we are?” Damien’s voice echoed around them.

Creed closed his eyes, then opened them quickly. “We’re still on Earth. Something is unnatural here, but it’s not demon born.”

Dark Embrace

1. You don’t know by Katelynn Turner
2. Sorry by Halsey
3. The Feeling by Justin Bieber and Halsey
4. I’m Gonna Show You Crazy by Bebe Rexa
5. Sway by Danielle Bradberry
6. Tennessee Whiskey by Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapelton
7. Tell Me You Love Me by Demi Levato
8. Faking by Calvin Harris Kehlani and Lil Yachty
9. Praying by Kesha
10. Bad at Love by Halsey
11. Dusk till Dawn by Zayn
12. Issues by Julia Michaels
13. Heavy by Linkn Park
14. At my Best by Machine Gun Kelly ft. Haily Steinfield
15. Scars to Your Beautiful by Alessia Cara
16. Glorious by Mackelmore and Skylar Grey
17. Perfect by Ed Sheeran
18. I Like Me Better by Lauv
19. Filthy by Justin Timberlake
20. There’s Nothing Holding Me Back by Shawn Mendez

About Elle: 

Elle Boon lives in Middle-Merica as she likes to say…with her husband, two kids, and a black lab who is more like a small pony. She’d never planned to be a writer, but when life threw her a curve, she swerved with it, since she’s athletically challenged. She’s known for saying “Bless Your Heart” and dropping lots of F-bombs, but she loves where this new journey has taken her.

She writes what she loves to read, and that is romance, whether it’s erotic, Navy SEALs, or paranormal, as long as there is a happily ever after. Her biggest hope is that after readers have read one of her stories, they fall in love with her characters as much as she did. She loves creating new worlds, and has more stories just waiting to be written. Elle believes in happily ever afters, and can guarantee you will always get one with her stories.

Connect with Elle online, she loves to hear from you:
Giveaway Details:
1 winner will receive a signed finished copy of DARK LOVERS & a $10 Gift Card to the book retailer of their choice, International.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, January 1, 2018

Reviews in Review 2017

It's that time of year again! New Years is probably one of my favorite holidays, and not because of the partying that comes with it (I'm the lightest lightweight you'll meet, trust me). I love all the resolutions, the self-reflection, and looking back on accomplishments and celebrating them, or on failures and learning from them. It's like a holiday all about growth, rebirth and second chances, and who wouldn't love that?

Every year I like to do my Reviews in Review where I reflect on all the books I've read, see if feelings have changed on any of them, as well as pick the stand out books of the year. 2017 wasn't the greatest reading year for me. I managed to read 15 out of my goal of 25. My goal has been to read 25 books a year for the last few years, and though I haven't quite made it there yet, I still believe I can do it. I did better this year than my first year with this goal, where I only managed 14 books, but worse than last year when I got 19 under my belt. I think all us creatives have suffered under the first year of Trump in office, so I'm hoping next year I'll finally be able to meet my goal of 25. I've got high hopes for 2018, though that may just be the optimism of the season taking hold. Either way, I'm stoked to see what the new year has in store. For now, let's look back at the stand outs of last year.

Outstanding in the Field 
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 

My first contact with this book was the Publisher's Marketplace deal announcement. Right from that little paragraph I knew there was something magical in this manuscript. When teaser releases became available, it only made me want this book more. This is the first book that I've ever watched go from deal announcement, to teaser marketing, to release day where I greedily grabbed the second last copy on the shelf. The book didn't disappoint, either. The question, I wondered, was would it stand up to the test of time? The answer was obvious, and with a slam dunk yes, this is one of the books I still think about often. I think about how many Starrs are out there right now, living eerily similar lives, and trying to find their voice in this world. And every day I'm grateful for the industry reps that championed this book, plucked Thomas out of the slush pile, and gave all those Starrs the representation they so deserved. It is the perfect example of writers using our craft to fight back and say something about the state of our world. For all these reasons and more, I can't help but name this one the real stand out of this year. 

Problematic AF 
I Am J by Cris Beam 

So, this book. If you want to be offended, then feel free to pick this one up. The main character was horribly mean throughout the whole book, even to people who openly cared about him. There was homophobia, biphobia, sexism, J degrades a sexual assault victim, and on, and on. I was enraged for my entire read through, and if anything that rage has only solidified over time. The biphobic comment especially still gets me really angry, as there was no need for it. It was just a hurtful comment the author wanted to throw in which added nothing to the story whatsoever, unless its purpose was to reinforce how awful J was, then it succeeded wonderfully. For the whole book, it was like the author hid their MC behind the transgender tag to get away with them being utterly despicable. Unfortunately, the writing style was just as bad, leaving this to be a particularly painful read to get through. A shame, since I'd had this one on my shelf for years and really connected with the premise. This book perfectly shows that writing is all in the execution. 

Best Romance 
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley

Hands down, the prize for best romance, het or LGBTQ2S, goes to Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley. I heard good things about the book and was longing for a good lesbian love story, and wasn't disappointed when I dove straight in. This book is a romance with a rich period setting steeped in segregation issues. I can still perfectly picture that back room where the girls did their schoolwork, where romantic tensions ran high among race debates. The tensions of the time set a high-stakes backdrop for the characters, who overcome prejudice to let love win. The tensions were so beautifully balanced in this book, and the romance had that edge-of-your-seat quality that made the book difficult to put down. The romantic tension blew all the books with straight couples right out of the water. Just thinking of this book warms my heart.  

Biggest Disappointment  
How to Ruin Everything by George Watsky

I was looking forward to this book as I'm a huge fan of Watsky's rap and spoken word career. He is a very talented poet and so getting a more in-depth look at his life was definitely appealing to me. And in some ways, the book was great. Each essay individually was beautiful and well-written, but they seemed lost when grouped all together. The book on a whole lacked that thematic connection that showed how to really ruin everything, which was disappointing as I feel the book could have been so much better with a thematic through line that helped loop each essay into a bigger picture. 

CSTAB Award - Can't Stop Talking About (this) Book 
More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

There are those books you read that just turn you into a chatterbox. You can't help talking about the book to everyone you meet, and for me, the book for that this year was More Happy Than Not. I was blabbing about it to everyone-- my roommates, friends, coworkers, even people at the gym. It's a premise that's captivating in its controversy, with an emotional plot that makes you extremely invested in the characters' lives. The book made me cry, it made me laugh, and it left me feeling a little bit empty and searching for answers from the world-- in a way that only a good book can. Adam Silvera is not afraid to rip your heart out and gift it back to you, which is probably what makes it so easy to talk about. Misery does love company, after all. 

Honorary Mention: The Resonator 
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

This book came to me at just the right time. The writing itself was easy and pleasant to get through, but it also opened my eyes to a lot of new ideals while piecing together things I had already learned and believed. Especially when our world is in a state of disunity and turmoil, this book helped me to realize how I'm going to resist and help my communities grow to a better place. At the end of the day, humans are social creatures, and when we commit to supporting one another and doing our part for the group, we can create amazing societies. This book really resonated with me and I'm often thinking about a certain part of the book where the author talks about the Siege of Sarajevo, how people banded together to survive, huddled together in basements while bombs flew through the city. One quote from the book that I loved was something a survivor of the siege, Nidzara Ahmetasevic, said about the experience: "We didn't believe in heroes. We were punk rockers. Our biggest hero was David Bowie." 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Too Sensitive for Sensitivity Readers

'Twas the day before Christmas, and all the writers on twitter,
Were snuggled in their jammies, filled with wine and baked fritters.
When a post appeared online that arose such a clatter,
and had writers yelling, "Sensitivity readers matter!"

The New York Times is known for ruffling feathers in the YA community and kid lit with tone-deaf articles based in sensationalism rather than the full picture. Just in time of the holidays, they've gifted us with a new piece called, In An Era of Online Outrage, Do Sensitivity Readers Result in Better Books or Censorship? in which NYT picked and chose their words in a way we might call censorship to make it seem like the white authors who've used sensitivity readers were victims of an oppressive scheme to destroy art. I hate to give articles like this any extra hits but I think it's important to read the other side of the story (hah). Plus, I like knowing the opposing viewpoint, so I figured you would to.

So What Are Sensitivity Readers Anyway?

When an author finishes writing a book, it's not actually finished. Not if that writer has plans to publish it in any way. As said in many acknowledgement sections in books, "writing is a solitary art, but publishing is a group project." When someone writes a story, it is a wholly personal thing, a reflection of what's in their heart, and a testament to their experience. But once that person shares their story with others, it's no longer theirs. Readers are affected by it, and they ascribe their own interpretations and meaning that can change the message actually being conveyed, which makes the whole writing-publishing process a bit trickier. At the end of the day, you are trying to convey a message or story, and you want to do that as clearly as possible without inadvertently having your narrative say something you didn't mean to, such as reinforcing racism. This is where sensitivity readers come into play.

Sensitivity readers are a part of a book's editing stage, and are similar to beta readers. What makes them different is they are specifically looking for how a minority group is portrayed on the page, looking for accuracy, and to get rid of things that might be offensive. When writers write outside their cultural experience, they can sometimes get it wrong. No matter how much research one does-- and writers often have to research non-stop while writing-- when writing about a different way of life, tiny inaccuracies can pull readers out of books, can cause readers to put it down, or just plain offend someone. (Think of the marine biologist getting so worked up over Jaws inaccuracies, then imagine POC and minorities feel that except x100000). Sensitivity readers are people with the same experience or background as the characters, who can (hopefully) pick out the things that would be culturally insensitive or inaccurate. That way we could avoid the whole cycle of people getting mad on the internet and poorly worded apologies and conveniently trying to forget that book is a thing.

Notes from sensitivity readers hold no more power than a beta reader or your mom's opinion ("Oh sweetie, your characters shouldn't use so many naughty words") and though major publishing houses are starting to hire them, most sensitivity readers are unpaid, unofficial, and just trying to help out their fellow writers. Though some people's reactions have been harsh, sensitivity reads are a voluntary thing for writers, and many do seek them out. Because at the end of the day, this is a craft issue. Characterization is a major component of good writing and this is just another side to writing characters. For decades, publishing has, and most media as well, assumed the only experience out there is white, able-bodied, straight, with westernized views and a Christian background. That any other experience is considered 'niche,' 'specialized,' and in a 'significant minority,' and most people have the same experience in life. Slowly, we're realizing the opposite is true. Each of our experience is so varied and our culture hugely affects how systems and people react to us, that we can't paint all people in one brush. That even the experience of walking down the street is hugely different if you're white, compared to black or Muslim. Now that we're realizing that, we are striving to make each character's experience wholly accurate, and sensitivity readers, or input from people in the same shoes as your character, is vastly helping writers improve their craft. We're taking characterization to a new, better level. We're bringing our literature to eye level with reality, so we can more accurately express what it's like to be alive in this world.

The NYT article really said it best in the article with: "Like fact checkers or copy editors, sensitivity readers can provide a quality-control backstop to avoid embarrassing mistakes, but they specialize in the more fraught and subjective realm of guarding against potentially offensive portrayals of minority groups, in everything from picture books to science fiction and fantasy novels."

Oh yeah, fact checkers handling some seriously subjective subject matter. Which is probably why things are getting a little explosive.

The "Outrage"

I hate how the word "outrage" has been used lately. It's thrown out as a demeaning phrase used to devalue legitimate concerns, often raised by people of colour. Adding "online" seems to knock it down another peg, insinuating that because it's done online it has less merit somehow. It's not people marching in the streets, so it must not matter. Which is utterly ridiculous.

Minorities and people of colour have for decades felt this level of outrage for misrepresentation in
Black people protesting Birth of a Nation in 1915
media. Sometimes, before the days of the internet, they took to the streets to express their disgust at the level of harmful misrepresentation. Now that we have the internet, there is a public platform for minorities and POC to voice their concerns-- allowing publishers to easily see it and respond. Which makes it so much harder on the part of publishers, producers, creators, everyone, not to take responsibility for these things. If you know better, you do better. Or isn't that what we expect of each other? Publishing is beginning to listen to these concerns and is responding with sensitivity readers, especially children's publishers. As they publish content for the most vulnerable and impressionable, they need to ensure their representation is accurate. More than just making POC kids feel bad about themselves, books with stereotyped characters and cultures can indoctrinate white kids (or those unfamiliar with that culture) with inaccurate and harmful information, which perpetuates the racist and white supremacist systems in our society.

For most writers, this all seems pretty simple. Writing about a major medical incident? Get a doctor to read over your manuscript. Writing about Victorian London? Consult a historian. Writing about Navajos living on the reserve? Maybe you should talk to a Navajo living on the reserve.

One of the examples from the article really hit home the importance of sensitivity readers, especially for me, as someone who works with kids in foster care and who are in adoption processes. Kate Milford received feedback from sensitivity readers for her middle grade novel Ghosts of Greenglass House, who, like her character, were also adopted internationally by white American families. "In one small but meaningful change that a sensitivity reader suggested, she stopped referring to Milo’s mother and father as his adoptive parents, and simply called them his parents." This, to an adopted child, is a huge change they would've definitely noticed. They are often highly sensitive to the concept of "real" families and belonging. So reading this book, it may be a trigger for them to see a distinction between "my adoptive mom" and just "my mom" normalized in a published book. That word sticking out there reaffirms that they're outside the norm which can have damaging effects to their self-esteem over the long run.

So where's the problem? Sensitivity reading seems to do a lot of good. But the article, as well as some writers, seem to suggest this is all censorship.


Cries of censorship echo all across the writing world, flying hand-in-hand with sensitivity readers. Yet I have trouble seeing the issue, especially when the process of sensitivity reading is the same as beta reading but with a different focus, and we didn't see cries of censorship there. Some writers (primarily white) are feeling afraid in this climate to "write outside their lane" as they fear getting it wrong and the inevitable backlash. Some are even claiming that they don't feel they can write about people of other backgrounds anymore, which doesn't make any sense to me. The whole point of sensitivity readers is to allow writers (primarily white) to write outside their own lane and do it successfully. The NYT article claims this is leading us to more homogeneous literature, when really the scrutiny towards accurate representation will allow us to write wider and write better. Instead of relying on internalized stereotypes and assumptions, we can get the inside scoop to allow writers to improve their craft and connect better with readers. Some critics are claiming that sensitivity readers are only one voice of a minority, and one black person can't speak to how all black people will feel. And while I agree wholeheartedly, it is still better to get the opinion of a few black people rather than none, is it not?

Criticism hurts at any point. It sucks to be told that the writing you've poured your heart into is bad, but that's all part of the process. If you want to improve, you have to take a hard look at your faults. If you want to publish, you have to be aware of your impact.
Shades of Magic series

Real censorship is awful, but criticism isn't censorship. Censorship is what happened to author VE Schwab. Her fantasy series, Shades of Magic, contains a gay relationship which was redacted from the Russian publication of the series without her permission. The contract stipulated that the plotline would remain, but the Russian publisher breached the contract to keep in line with the Russian "gay propaganda" law. Censorship comes without your knowledge or your consent. Censorship is the suppression or elimination of information. Sensitivity reading is the improvement of your content so you can tell the story you want. Sounds like the opposite of censorship to me.

People who take up arms against sensitivity reading don't have a lot of answers to the concerns POC raise about the lack of diversity in publishing. Nor do they really care. The way publishing Has Always Been benefits and suits them, and it can be difficult to engage people who can't see problems outside their own experience. So they claim that those who "don't like what's being published" should go off and "start their own" publishing houses/imprints/magazines/etc/etc. Aside from how difficult that is for people who don't come from rich backgrounds, POC have been starting their own houses/imprints/magazines/etc/etc for decades now. They've put in the work, building everything from the ground up just to publish works with accurate representation, and are still outpaced by big publishing houses who continue to publish books with harmful representation. Segregating publishing does nothing to address the problematic books being published all across the board.

The Core of It

Why is all of this such a big deal? Why should we even have to bother with sensitivity readers? At the end of the day, the need for sensitivity readers reflects the lack of diversity in the publishing industry. Where are the black editors? The Muslim agents? The Asian-American immigrant book reviewers for major publications? The more diversity we have within the industry itself, the less we'll have to reach out to sensitivity readers working unappreciated on the fringes. We're already asking for these people's input, and it's about time we put them in places where they can use their input to influence publishing. Not only will that open the door to more unique voices, but it will help to build sensitivity reading into the foundations of publishing itself, which is something we're long overdue for.

As it stands now, most of the gatekeepers within the publishing industry are of that white, straight, able-bodied, westernized, Christian background, and so don't have the experience to culturally vet so widely. That is also why we have more of a focus on white experiences. This is also why it's so much easier for white people to publish books about POC than for POC to publish books about POC. The expectation is (because the industry is mostly white) that the audience will also be mostly white. So even when books on POC are published, it needs to be through the viewpoint of a white person to make it more appealing to the "general" audience. And once that "Book about POC" slot is filled on a house's list (and because the assumption is the audience majority is white, there usually is only one or two slots a year for books about POC), most other submissions are shit outta luck until next year. So even when publishing about POC, white people still have the advantage to get those coveted spots of POC books to be published that year.

At the end of the day, sensitivity is nothing to be afraid of. If you want to write about black people, don't you want to get it right? If you're publishing anything at all, don't you want to make sure you put your best work forward?

And if your major concern is that there's too much focus on diversity, and we need less of it? Well then you can go fuck right off. Because we all deserve a voice. And it's about time we all learned to share the spotlight.