Friday, November 30, 2018

COVER REVEAL: Wolf Smoke by Poe Casavant

They were chosen to save their country. First, they'll have to save themselves. 

Following a decade of nuclear war, the population has plummeted, forcing the world to find a civilian-saving alternative. They settle on the Langyan Series, where, in order to decide international disputes, twelve-person teams from each country will compete in paintball battles inside a specially designed arena.

Sarah Charlton—a depressed, destructive, and anxiety-ridden college dropout—is the last person anyone expects to lead the USA team. Cut off from the outside world, she and her eleven teammates, including an old friend and an old flame, must rely on one another for safety and support. To prove her worth as a leader, Sarah first has to learn to trust in herself.

But then the Series turns deadly, and as the team fights to stay alive, Sarah fights to hold onto her humanity.

A thrilling science-fiction story by Poe Casavant

Cover art by l0cke

February 26, 2019 from Sky Forest Press

Add it to your Goodreads today

About the Author: Poe Casavant is the author of the first book in the Langyan Series and its upcoming sequels. By day, she designs robotic props and hairpieces for the fashion world. When not working, you can find her crashing through waves in her sea kayak, jumping out of airplanes, or training for her current goal of climbing the highest peak on every continent. (Five down, three to go!) Poe’s passion is creating high-octane stories with characters who shatter traditional stereotypes.

Poe lives in sunny Silicon Valley with her husband, cat, and two parrots.

Find Poe on Twitter and her website.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

NEWS: The Stroke of Thirteen Is Now on Audiobook

I'm excited to announce that my contemporary fantasy novel, The Stroke of Thirteen, is now on audiobook. 

It's narrated by Kristin Price and available on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

If you're not yet an Audible member, you can use this personalized link to buy it and help me earn a little bit extra.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Writing Update, NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo is one of my favorite times of the year. That's partly because it's fall, and I love the excuse to wear soft sweatshirts and drink steaming cups of tea while I write. And partly because it's a challenge. In a small way (a very small way!), I miss the deadlines of grad school, and NaNo is kind of a supersized deadline.

As much as I love it, this year, I won't be participating--at least not in the traditional sense. Instead of 50,000 words, my personal goal is to finish the current draft of book two of my epic fantasy trilogy. To get into the spirit of NaNo, though, I made myself a revision calendar. This is the rough draft. It's very messy.

I'll probably still be logging a few words on the NaNo website, so if you want to friend me, feel free. I could always use more writing buddies! My name there is pancakes16.

If, like me, you enjoy instrumental music while you write and are looking for something new, I made a writing playlist on Spotify.

Happy NaNoing!

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Love Like This, Melissa Brayden


Love Like This is the fourth and final installment in Melissa Brayden's Seven Shores series and the third in the series I've read (Sorry, Autumn. I have your book; just haven't gotten to it yet!). The series follows the same group of four friends who all live in the same apartment complex and feature heavily in each other's stories, and Love Like This follows Hadley, the group's resident ray of sunshine. It's fitting that Brayden chose Hadley's story to finish out the series.

After watching her friends Isabel, Autumn, and Gia all find their person and fall in love, it's finally Hadley's turn. As the assistant manager of a clothing store on Rodeo Drive, she's charged with finding a new designer to bring in more interest and clientele. Enter Spencer Adair, a pragmatic designer who doesn't believe in happily ever afters, only happily for nows. The only problem is that Hadley isn't sure she can settle for anything less than forever.

Friday, October 12, 2018

FANTASY FRIDAY: The Pathfinder Universe

I've realized Friday isn't the best day for me to do these because I'm always busy all day, but I love alliteration more than I love being logical, I guess! I'll continue these installments even if I write them a bit irregularly.

On this week's Fantasy Friday, I'm discussing the Pathfinder universe. It's a fantasy role-playing game, much like Dungeons and Dragons, but I don't actually play it! I'd love to rectify that in the future. Right now, though, I don't have much free time to delve into it. And because I didn't play it, I always stayed away from that part of the sci-fi/fantasy section in the bookstore.

I was missing out! Before one of my besties moved to England, she and I would spend lots of time browsing the local B&N. The last time we went together, I stumped one of the booksellers. My friend wanted sci-fi about AI, and his first suggestion was successful. Then I asked for epic or high fantasy with prominent female characters, and he had to try four different suggestions and leave and come back in order to get me to Pathfinder. Out of the series shelf, he pulled out a few titles and explained what they were about. I walked out with three Pathfinder books that day.

The first I read was Gears of Faith by Gabrielle Harbowy. It followa Keren, a knight of Iomedae, and her girlfriend, Zae, a gnome cleric of the clockwork god. When they move to the city of Absalom, they both face challenges in adapting to their new lives while searching for a stolen bloodstone. Even though I'd never read anything in the Pathfinder universe, I never felt lost. Harbowy explained enough to keep me knowledgeable but not so much that I lost interest.

I read it in a few days because it turned out to be exactly what I wanted to read. I loved that there were two female protagonists who were very different but relied on each other for strength and comfort. It was great to see fantasy with LGBT+ representation--and in more than one way. Most of all, in this age of gritty, grimdark sprawling series, I enjoyed the chance to read a standalone fantasy that had nice, moral characters at its heart. I'm so, so tired of fantasy books that focus on characters betraying each other in the name of ambition.

So, yeah, the recommendation of Gears of Faith was a resounding success. I've started reading another book in the series, Hellknight by Liane Merciel. This one is taking me longer not because I don't like it but because I'm a slow reader who reads too many books at once. It's about Jheraal, a Hellknight, one of a brutal organization of warriors dedicated to maintaining law and order at any cost. She teams up with a knight named Ederras to stop a serial killer who targets children. Although I'm only 1/4 of the way in, I'm looking forward to reading more this weekend and, once I've finished, diving into other Pathfinder adventures.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Proxima Five, Missouri Vaun


I requested this book on NetGalley because I really like sci-fi and, honestly, it reminded me a bit of the premise for The 100 (which I think has wasted a lot of its potential). This was my first Vaun book, and I'd probably read more in the future.

The premise is that Leah crash-lands on a planet called Proxima B after decades in cryogenic suspension. Her ship was one of ten, and it's the planet they were aiming for. Unfortunately, none of the rest of her crew survived and Proxima B isn't quite as uninhabited as she'd expected. Keegan, a military commander, finds Leah out in the desert and rescues her by taking her back to Hadyn City, where they get caught up in political struggles as well as their growing feelings for one another.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Gnarled Hollow, Charlotte Greene

 ★★ 1/2

English professor Dr. Emily Murray recently lost her position due to university cutbacks. Depressed, she accepts a timely job offer to live in New England for the summer at a house called Gnarled Hollow, which was the home of the reclusive writer Margot Lewis, one of Emily's subjects of research. She shares the house with Jim, another English professor; Mark, an architect; June, an art historian; and Chris, a landscape historian (or something like that). But they soon realize not all is as it seems.

Unfortunately, I thought I would like this a lot more than I actually did. I'd seen good buzz and was excited for a creepy ghost story. I think my underwhelmed reaction comes down to not really connecting with the writing style and not getting a good sense of the characters. I found the writing to be relatively simple and unexciting.

Friday, September 7, 2018

FANTASY FRIDAY: Monstress by Marjorie Liu, art by Sana Takeda

In honor of volume three coming out next week (eep! I'm excited!), today's Fantasy Friday is about Monstress, a comic-book series written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda. Here's the official synopsis:
Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900's Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers. 
Sounds awesome, right? Because it is! Maika is one of those protagonists I can't help but love--a little bit damaged, a lot of secrets and mysteries in her past, and a hell of an attitude. She accidentally picks up two sidekicks--Kippa, a fox arcanic girl, and Master Ren, a smart-ass cat nekomancer with two tails. I tend to love misfit characters who find unexpected companionship anyway, but their dynamics as a group are delightful. Not to mention there are a ton of female characters, good and bad and everywhere in between. In fantasy, that's especially refreshing, and it's a big reason I always love revisiting this world.

Beyond the story, one of the major draws of this series is Takeda's art. It's insanely detailed and gorgeous. I can't say that enough. I lack the proper vocabulary to talk about visual art in more depth, but I think my Goodreads review of volume two sums it up well: "I want to drown in the art. Or paper my bedroom with it."

However, the series is apparently an acquired taste. Everyone I try to recommend it to comes back to me with the complaint that it's confusing. And it is. I've read the first volume multiple times, and I still have to stop and ask myself, "Wait. Who are these people? What is that again?" You've got humans and arcanics (half-human and half-ancient, a powerful race blessed by the lunar goddess) and all the different factions and viewpoints they represent. Sometimes it's difficult to keep everything straight, especially since Liu drops you into a new world without much of a guidebook.

This has been my favorite comic series for a while now, and I'm very excited to read the third volume. I have the issues and have read the first two or three in the volume, but I prefer reading it in one big chunk. If you're looking to jump into it, volume one is only $6.15 on kindle right now. It's a steal!

What other fantasy comics would you recommend?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart


One of the things I love about YA fantasy is that it's easy to find female protagonists. One of the things I dislike about it is a lot of it feels repetitive (to me, not necessarily to the main YA audience). So, while I was intrigued by the synopsis for Grace and Fury, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Turns out going in without many expectations means I was pleasantly surprised!

The story follows Nomi and Serina, a pair of sisters who live in Viridia, an Italian-inspired fantasy world where women are oppressed. Serina trains to be a Grace, a woman who could potentially be chosen by the Superior (the leader of the country) or his son, the heir, as a "companion." Nomi, on the other hand, is more of a rebel. Too bad the heir picks Nomi instead of Serina, leaving Nomi in a role she never wanted and Serina to get sent off to an island called Mount Ruin, a women's prison where they fight to the death for the "privilege" of food. (That's not a spoiler because it's right in the synopsis.)

Friday, August 24, 2018


Welcome to a new semi-regular series, which is basically an excuse to talk about my favorite fantasy things and hopefully invite my friends to do so, too! I feel like I've been griping and grousing a lot about being disappointed in pop culture, so I want to be positive and draw attention to a genre I love.

 First up is a new TV show airing on the CW this summer called The Outpost. I've been excited about this for a little while because it's produced by Arrowstorm Entertainment, independent filmmakers who focus on science fiction and fantasy stories. I've been a fan for a few years now, ever since I randomly picked up a movie called Mythica: A Quest for Heroes on a whim one day. And since there aren't a ton of high fantasy films being made, I keep up with what they produce.

The Outpost follows Talon (Jessica Green), who's the last remaining blackblood after her village is slaughtered when she's a child. A decade or so later, her search for the men who killed her family takes her to the outpost, where she becomes a barmaid, though the job is second priority to her quest for revenge. Along the way, aside from the baddies she's after, she meets potential friends Janzo (Anand Desai-Barochia), Captain Garrett Spears (Jake Stormoen), and Gwynn (Imogen Waterhouse).

Things get complicated when Talon meets a man she knows only as the Smith, who tries to convince her she has a special power to summon demons. Elsewhere in the outpost, a tavern mistress battles for control of a drug trade, a disease finds its way into the walls, and rebellion against the Prime Order foments. And, like in all good dramas, everyone's got secrets.

Gwynn, Janzo, and Garrett

Talon's firmly in the category of "strong female character." She's gruff and violent, and it takes a while to warm up to her. While she could be a bit nicer, a bit more endearing, it's interesting to watch where her journey takes her. I actually find Gwynn, the privileged daughter of a general, more intriguing, and I like that her relationship with Talon is complex. Janzo, who's both intelligent and kind, is my favorite character so far.

While I do think there's a lot of potential in moving away from European-medieval-inspired (and falsely white-centric) fantasy--or expanding the sandbox--I'm always down for some good sword-swinging and dark magic and lush scores. I'm reserving full judgment until the rest of the season airs because I want to see which direction the story goes in, but so far, I'm having a lot of fun and look forward to each episode. Overall, I recommend it to fantasy fans and welcome discussion about it!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Where Are All the Mothers in Action-Adventure Stories?

I pretty much love the new Tomb Raider movie. Nowadays, my biggest criterion for whether I like a movie or not is if it entertains me, and this very much does. But it also reminded me a lot of Rogue One, and in that respect, it got me noticing a coincidence--possibly a pattern that highlights a glaring issue--in women's stories.

In Tomb Raider, one of the main focuses is Lara’s relationship with her father. Her adventures start when her long-lost father leaves her a puzzle box in his will and she decides to literally follow in his footsteps in the hopes of finding him. In Rogue One, the story’s similar. Jyn hasn’t seen her father since she was a little girl (and hasn’t seen her surrogate father-figure since she was a teenager). Part of her motivation in joining the Rebellion is to find him, and the reason she’s able to complete her mission is because of him.

In so many stories where the main character is a woman, her primary relationship, one that drives the story, is with a man--in this case, her father or father-figure. There’s nothing wrong with telling stories about a woman’s relationship with her father, of course, and I think it's good to depict good father-daughter relationships, which both of these movies do.

It just has me wondering where all the mothers are. I'd love to see Lyra being the driving mind behind the Death Star and then planting a flaw only her daughter will find. I'd love to see a woman in her fifties who's been lost on an island for seven years patching up her daughter's wounds, running through a jungle, and helping her save the world.

In conclusion, I'd love to see more stories centered on mother/daughter relationships. And by all means, please recommend some!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Writing Update, June

Toward the beginning of June, I "finished" a draft of book two in my epic fantasy series. It's not quite done because there are some missing pieces and still some details I haven't decided on, like if I should add certain characters to certain scenes. But it's getting there! I was able to send it to a couple beta readers, and hopefully, they'll have some productive feedback for me relatively soon.

I have a few projects that I need to pick up again--a science fiction novel about sisters, a YA apocalypse novel, and some manuscripts that are in the very beginning stages. But I decided to go in a different direction. I took a screenwriting class in college, and every once in a while, I try to stretch those muscles. So, to do that and to cleanse my writing palate, I'm working on a screenplay for a fantasy movie. I have no idea if I'll finish it or even if it'll be any good, but I'm having fun doing it, and I might even be able to turn it into a novel one day.

I also finished and submitted a short story to an anthology. We'll see what happens with it.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Sparks Like Ours, Melissa Brayden


This was my third Melissa Brayden title (and I have more in my TBR pile). Even after only two books, I knew Brayden would deliver a solid, enjoyable read, and she certainly did.

Sparks Like Ours is the third book in a four-book series following a group of four friends. This is Gia's book, although Isabel, Autumn, and Hadley all appear throughout the story. Gia's a pro surfer and looking to make it to the number-one spot, currently occupied by Elle Britton, surfing's golden girl. While Gia and Elle have crossed paths on the tour, there's little love between them. Until they're presented with a joint sponsorship opportunity and are forced to spend more time together and get to know one another.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

BOOK REVIEW, Furyborn, Claire Legrand

I tried?

The cover's pretty cool, and I really like fantasy books with female protagonists, but unfortunately, this one just didn't work for me. I think I started this way back in January, but by this past Friday, I'd only made it to 24%. I sat down that night, intending to get a good chunk done, and after what felt like forever, I was only at 29%. So I decided not to finish this one.

I don't think I have much to add to what people have already said. Talking about believability in a fantasy book feels weird, but this story stretched mine. Eliana is supposed to be a serious assassin, but a lot of the times, she just feels incompetent. Her mom is supposed to be an assassin, too, the one who taught Eliana everything, but then she gets captured? It seemed like it just happened for plot purposes.

I also just didn't like anyone. I don't think every female character has to be "likeable," but I have to want to root for someone. The problem was I didn't connect with either Rielle or Eliana, and I can't really pinpoint why. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that their stories didn't feel like they revolved around them, if that makes sense. As for the side characters, no one captured me. It feels like Simon was supposed to be charming, but . . . meh? Because of my disinterest for the characters, some moments that were meant to be emotional just felt silly to me. Like Harkan declaring his love for Eliana right before he does something unwise.

The writing didn't click for me. The prologue confused me rather than got me hooked on the story. Because of the time jumps, a lot of it felt repetitive. The pacing is a lot of action and not a lot of character development. A horse gets killed pretty violently, which I really hated.

All that said, this book obviously works for some readers. That's cool. It just wasn't for me, and that's okay, too. Different strokes, and all that.

Thanks to NetGalley, Sourcebooks Fire, and Claire Legrand for the e-ARC.

Friday, May 25, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Riding the Track, by Kara Ripley


I wanted something short and fun to read, so I picked this one up. When Clara discovers that her boyfriend's cheating on her, she kicks his butt to the curb and goes on the trip they had planned together-- five days in the Australian outback, riding horses and herding cattle. Her group guide is Evie, a beautiful "jillaroo" (cowgirl) with Aboriginal ancestry. I'm not in a position to say if the Aboriginal representation was good, but it was there, which I appreciated.

Let me start with the things I really enjoyed. One was Clara. The story's written entirely in Clara's point of view. It's also written in first person, which I sometimes have a hard time getting into. Here, I had no problem, and a lot of that was due to Clara's voice. She's bitter and snarky, and I loved it. It works because she just got out of a relationship that ended very poorly, and I think Ripley did a good job conveying that her bitterness toward her fellow travelers (especially Michael and Louise, that lovely couple) was less about them and more about her own unhappiness. She also makes great progress in terms of her mood throughout the trip, which was nice to read.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Short Story Round-Up

In March, my flash piece "The Offerings" was released by Freeze Frame Fiction. You can check it out here. The other stories in the issue very cool, each has its own art piece by Luke Spooner, and it's all flash fiction, so they only take a few minutes to read.

Whispers in the Dark, an anthology from SEZ Publishing, dropped this week. That includes my story "How You Find It." It's available on Amazon. Right now, I believe it's only available in paperback. I think an e-book is planned.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Writing Update, April

I've been feeling a little burned-out recently, which is part of the reason I didn't reach my goal of 20,000 words for April's Camp Nano and instead wrote only 10,000. That's okay, though, and it takes the sci-fi manuscript up to 8,500. Plus, this time, I'm happy with those words. I think it's best to work on it without a timeline in mind for getting it finished.

The other 1,500 words belong to a short story that is currently not going anywhere. Maybe I'll pick it up again in the near future.

Better news is I'm currently revising Book II in my epic fantasy series. I'm over halfway through the manuscript as I make notes on what needs to be changed or fixed. Then I'll tackle writing the actual revisions. I'm planning on finishing that up by the end of May. After that, it goes to another beta reader, which means it'll be one step closer to publication.

So, still plodding away. The going may be slow, but it's forward going. Can't be upset with that.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

ECOSYSTEM Blog Tour -- Joshua David Bellin

I'm happy to be a stop on Joshua David Bellin's blog tour to celebrate the release of his newest book, ECOSYSTEM, which releases tomorrow.


 Don't forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway at the end of the post for a chance to win a signed copy!


Seventeen-year-old Sarah is a Sensor, gifted with the ability to survive within the sentient Ecosystem that swept away human civilization centuries ago. While the remnants of humankind huddle in small villages of stone, Sarah uses her psychic connection to the Ecosystem to travel freely in the wild in search of food, water, and fuel. Sarah doesn’t fear the Ecosystem—but she hates it for killing her mother when Sarah was a child. When she hunts, she hunts not only for her people’s sustenance but for revenge.

Then Miriam, an apprentice Sensor, is lost in the Ecosystem, and Sarah sets out to rescue her. Joining Sarah is Miriam’s beloved, Isaac, a boy who claims to possess knowledge of the Ecosystem that will help their people survive. The harrowing journey to find the missing apprentice takes Sarah and Isaac into the Ecosystem’s deadliest places. And it takes Sarah into the unexplored territory of her own heart, where she discovers feelings that threaten to tear her—and her society—apart.

A thrilling fantasy adventure from the author of Freefall and the Survival Colony series, Ecosystem is the first book in a YA trilogy that includes The Devouring Land (2019) and House of Earth, House of Stone (2020).


Ecosystem is a powerhouse of a novel. From the very first scene, Bellin draws you into a highly realized universe where the greatest threat to humans is the world around them. From bloodbirds to poisonrose to flameflies, there’s always something ready to harm or kill a person as soon as they step outside of their stone village.

Bellin’s writing is confident and clear, coaxing you into the world and the story. It’s apparent that he took great care in this project and that it’s close to his heart. As someone who reads a lot, I think that makes a subtle difference in the reading experience because it helps deepen the story.

What generally attracts me to stories is the protagonist. Here, it’s a fun and occasionally exasperating ride to step into Sarah’s shoes and find out where her journey—both physical and emotional—takes her. Like the stabbing nettles she sometimes encounters, she’s a bit prickly, especially at first. But as she learns to trust others and herself, she grows in confidence and grows on the reader.

This is a timely novel, too, that cautions against abusing the environment. It should seem like common sense, but in a time when recognizing climate change means going against business interests and profits, it’s a necessary and apt reminder.

Overall, Ecosystem is a thrilling, complex read. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book in the trilogy, The Devouring Land.

More About Josh 

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). A college teacher by day, he is the author of three science fiction novels for teens and adults: the two-part Survival Colony series (Survival Colony 9 and Scavenger of Souls) and the deep-space adventure Freefall. His new book, the YA fantasy Ecosystem, releases on April 22, 2018 (Earth Day). Josh loves to read, watch movies, and spend time in Nature with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.

Find Josh online:

And find ECOSYSTEM at:

Josh will also be stopping by the Monessen Public Library on Saturday, May 19th.




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 16, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Princess Deception, Nell Stark

I really enjoy Twelfth Night, and I'm an even bigger fan of She's the Man. When I saw this available on NetGalley, I jumped at the chance to read it. Modern adaptations of older works are always a lot of fun, especially when things get updated in unique ways. Because of that, I really, really wanted to love this one. However, I didn't.

The story is about Viola, the Princess of Belgium. When her twin brother, Sebastian, overdoses right before the month-long bid for the FIFA World Cup begins, she decides to play him while he goes to rehab so the bid can continue. Meanwhile, Missy Duke is a former pro soccer player who was forced to retire early because of a knee injury. Now, she's covering the Belgian-Dutch joint bid for a sports magazine/network. Cue the ensuing misunderstandings.

I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Duke finds out about Viola's ruse, but I think she finds out way too easily. Ultimately, I think that's what dissatisfied me. The whole conceit of Twelfth Night is that pretty much no one knows that Cesario is really Viola, and a lot of the drama and comedy come from the audience knowing. Instead of being intrigued by "Sebastian" and then having to reevaluate when she finds out Sebastian is really Viola, Duke spends the majority of their relationship trying to figure out why Viola's doing it so she can break a story. More than that, though, they actually just don't spend a lot of time together. We're 40% in before they have a conversation in private, and the black moment comes at 70%, which doesn't leave them much time to develop a relationship.

My main complaint is possibly my own fault. I went into this with high expectations because, like I said, I enjoy Twelfth Night and especially She's the Man. So, my expectation was that this would be funny. Instead, it's very dramatic. That's fine, and the drama is mostly earned. Sebastian's overdose and subsequent rehabilitation are treated with the weight they deserve. Duke is still depressed over losing her soccer career. I just wanted this to be a lot more fun and filled with more shenanigans than it was.

There are some nice moments and observations in the writing, though. At one point, Viola notes how much she appreciates her circle of friends. Both Viola and Duke treat Sebastian's addiction as a disease and defend him against people who would "out" his addiction as a scandal. While posing as Sebastian, Viola realizes she shouldn't say a lot because men are often laconic when it comes their emotions, and she wonders "whether men felt as constrained by the norms governing their behavior as she did emulating them."

Because there's such a focus on a woman pretending to be a man and having to wear "masculine" clothing and on how people present gender, it made me think a lot about transgenderism and gender expression and passing and the "proper" amount of masculinity or femininity. I don't know if this can be classified as transgender representation, especially whether it can be classified as positive transgender representation. What I can say is that it made me think and made me want to learn more about transgender history.

Overall, The Princess Deception is an interesting book, but don't go into it expecting a faithful representation of Twelfth Night.

Thanks to NetGalley, Bold Strokes Books, and Nell Stark for the advanced e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Where There's Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up, Elizabeth Smart

I vaguely remember the media coverage surrounding Elizabeth Smart's disappearance and subsequent rescue. She's only a year older than I am, and I didn't really pay attention to news until I got to high school at least. I remember her disappearance and her eventual rescue, but I didn't know any of the details. When I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway, I decided it'd be better to have more of an understanding of her ordeal. I listened to My Story on audiobook and found it moving and uplifting.

The subject of Where There's Hope: Healing, Moving Forward, and Never Giving Up is fairly self-explanatory. What I appreciated most about the book, though, is that it's not just Smart's story of moving on from her ordeal. In each chapter, she interviews one or two people who have been through or are currently dealing with difficult circumstances, and she doesn't shy away from those whose stories are far different than her own. In this way, it's not Smart telling the reader there's only one way to move on and that's her way. Instead, she presents other peoples' stories and examples in ways that allow the reader to see there are many roads to recovery. I also found the book to be well structured. Smart uses the interviews as well as her own experiences to highlight the themes of each chapter, among them hope, loss, faith, forgiveness, and more.

The one quibble I had is that during one chapter, a mother who lost her daughter to suicide after not being weaned off properly advises alternatives to antidepressants such as exercise and being in nature. The truth is just that everyone needs a different combination of healing options. While certain people do react poorly to antidepressants, they're extremely helpful for other people. I just think it's a tricky topic and Smart could've spent a bit more time on it.

Nonfiction, especially titles in the self-help category, tends to be subjective in a different way than fiction, so I find that I can't really judge this book or recommend it in the way I do novels. The only thing I can say is that if you are even a little bit intrigued, it's probably worth picking up.

Overall, I really enjoyed this reading experience. I dogeared a lot of pages and quotes to return to. I'm probably going to pass this on to my mom because I think she'd appreciate it, too. One of the marks of a really good book, for me, is if it keeps me thinking afterward, and this one certainly has.

Friday, March 23, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Herding Cats, Sarah Andersen


If you've read one of Andersen's previous collections, you know what you're getting with this one. The "scribbles" subtitle is accurate, as
each comic is only a page. The first two books were also delightful, and this one follows through on that as well. Because of the length of the pieces, there's no earth-shattering material. Instead, they're short strips that capture the reality of being an adult today.

That can be good and useful in and of itself. It's nice to know I'm not alone in struggling with adult tasks or self-worth. None of us really knows what we're doing, but hey, a lot of us take comfort in books and pets and friends and comics like these.

That's not to say there isn't depth. The comics tackle issues like anxiety, introversion, time management, sexism, politics/the social landscape, and global warming. There are lighter topics, too, like how summer is hot, being a bookworm, bonding with fictional characters, and the little joys of life, like scissors sliding across wrapping paper.

Where this collection veers away from the path of the first two is the discussion that closes out the book. In the last few pages, Andersen intersperses the comics with prose in order to advocate for creativity. She discussing the realities of being a creative person on the internet, where everyone has access to your work but not everyone has good intentions, and she calls for creative types to, simply, keep making stuff, a message that's always nice to hear.

In my opinion, collections like these are best in small doses. pick it up, read a comic or two, have a chuckle or appreciate how relatable or cute it is, and repeat the next day.

Thanks to NetGalley, Andrew McMeels Publishing, and Sarah Andersen for the e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, March 16, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: What She Doesn't Know, Andrew E. Kaufman

While reading this, I was hovering around three stars. I didn't love it, but it certainly kept me reading. However, the more I read, the more frustrated I got.

I had issues with the writing style. I actually love present tense, which not many people do, so that wasn't what tripped me up. It just didn't feel as polished as it should have been. There's a lot of info-dumping. The dialogue is unrealistic at times. Every time Riley yells, it's in all-caps. There's no real setting of scenes, just sentences like: "It's been a few days since Riley left her sister that apology message and still no response." But every chapter (and each scene is a new chapter) opens similarly. A lot of the moments that should be emotional don't land, such as: "She applies the makeup, but even that can't fix the damage caused by a life wasted, a life destroyed. Then a tear--the kind that expresses what words never could--rolls down her cheek."

Sunday, March 4, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Soul of the World, David Mealing

I'm writing this review because I loved this book and great books deserved to be talked about! It's no secret I love epic fantasy. I enjoy a ton of genres, but there's no shaking epic fantasy from the #1 spot. However, it's a very frustrating genre because it's been so focused on straight white male protagonists. To me, and to many other readers, that's tired and boring by now. I don't need the genre to be reinvented. I just need it to be more inclusive, and I'm very happy with this one.

I picked up Soul of the World on a whim. I knew I wanted a big, thick fantasy, but honestly, I often shy away from male authors. That's the majority of the genre, though, so I grabbed this one in B&N one day and decided to buy it because I was excited by the prospect of two of the three main characters being women (and the other being a man of color, but I didn't realize that just from reading the back cover).

Basically, the story takes place in a new world across an ocean from the old, so very much inspired by Europeans coming to North America. In this new world, there are indigenous tribes, colonies of Sarresant and Gand, and a wall that divides the two. The plot isn't easy to distill into a sentence or two because there's just so much going on. There's very cool magic and revolution and a shifting of gender roles and giant animals and gods with mysterious motivations.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Writing Update, February

February's been . . . interesting. Every once in a while, I hit a wall creatively. I think it's because I don't like to take breaks. So, I finished the draft of book two in mid-December, and by the middle of January, I'd added 30,000 words to a romance manuscript to finish it. Even though I did a lot of reading at the beginning of February to help cleanse my palate, I tried to jump straight into other projects instead of giving myself a breather, and it didn't work out that well.

My main goal was to write four short stories to submit to anthologies before March 1st. I wrote and submitted two. 50% isn't bad, but I'm a little disappointed. I also had the goal of increasing my science-fiction manuscript from 9,000 words to 30,000. I increased it to 10,000 words. At least that's some forward momentum, even if it's slow.

One thing I'm going to try to do is outline the sci-fi novel more deeply. Right now, the outline is a page long and just major story beats. It'll help to flesh that out, figure out more about the characters, and do some world-building before I really dive into the manuscript.

I've also decided to indulge myself in my pet project, which is an epic fantasy with a cast that's almost entirely female just 'cause that's what I wanna write. From the outline, it's going to be a long, long book, so the number-one rule is that I can't get consumed in it. I'm only going to write a bit here and there when I need help getting into the flow. And I'm giving myself permission for the first draft to be terrible. Because it will be, and I don't want to scare myself away from writing it because I want it to come out perfectly the first time.

So, there are my new goals! Stay tuned for whatever progress I end up making. And an extra bit of good news: I sold a short story today. It's supposed to come out tomorrow, so I'll keep you updated!

Saturday, February 10, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: The Queen of Ieflaria, Effie Calvin

The Queen of Ieflaria, by Effie Calvin, is the first book in a fantasy series. Esofi, a princess of Rhodia, has been betrothed to Albion, the heir of Ieflaria, since they were young children. When Albion dies in an accident, Esofi travels to Ieflaria with the intention of marrying the new heir, who turns out to be Adale. Adale, as second child, had never intended on becoming queen and, as such, is found lacking, enough that her two cousins throw their hats into the ring for becoming heir and, consequently, Esofi's betrothed. There's also the small matter of dragons attacking Ieflara and the Ieflarian people not having strong enough magic to repel them. Esofi is a gifted mage and has brought Rhodian battlemages with her to help Ieflaria fight this threat.

Monday, February 5, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: It's Not a Date, Heather Blackmore

It's Not a Date is about Kade Davenport, a tech entrepreneur and investor who is a stickler for punctuality and doesn't let herself get close to anyone, and Jen Spencer, CEO of Creative Care, which aims to pair people who need to hire care for elderly or sick relatives with private-care workers. When one of Creative Care's board members falls ill, Kade is called in to substitute, and Kade and Jen find out they have very different management styles even while sparks fly.

Throughout the read, I was hovering between 4 and 5 stars, but by the end, I was completely charmed by this story. Honestly, I didn't understand some of the stuff about investments and venture capitalists, but it never took away from my enjoyment of the story. I could still very much understand where each woman was coming from and the stakes each was facing.

A lot of Jen's concerns about being a female CEO in the tech industry are real-life issues women face. Her colleague was pushed out of her CEO role for becoming pregnant. Jen thinks that Kade, who basically has no private life, has set an example for successful businesswomen that essentially advises women to value their job over their family. And Jen worries that having to leave work unexpectedly to care for her grandmother, who has dementia, will hurt her prospects in the field.

On Kade's end, she has some very real trauma from her youth that she's never gotten over. Because of this, she's never been in a relationship and only has one real friend. Jen, through her kindness, helps her grow as a person.

This is what I loved most about this book and what ultimately won me over--how Jen and Kade are written. There's always going to be miscommunication and angst in a romance, but it's very subtly done here. Their differences arise from them being completely different people, but I always understood both points of view. There were multiple points where their differences could've been used to amp up the angst. Instead, Blackmore often has the character or characters in the wrong take time to cool off and understand on their own why they were wrong. It's very refreshing.

I also want to say that the ending scene was one of the most satisfying romance ending scenes that I've read. It tied things together in a lovely way.

There were a few things that didn't quite work for me, however. I see from a lot of people's reviews that they loved the beginning set in Maui. While I enjoyed it, I found myself questioning the authorial choice to devote an entire 12% to it. I think it could've been pared down, but I realize I didn't enjoy it as much as some others because I don't care too much for instant attraction. I like when characters have a bit of a struggle getting there.

I also thought the points of view were a little imbalanced, especially toward the beginning. We spent a lot of time with Kade first then lots with Jen before it evened out. Perhaps I would've found the beginning 12% more interesting if there had been more of a balance. Along these same lines, sometimes it took a paragraph or two to figure out whose point of view we were in. These types of things definitely aren't deal-breakers for me, but they could be improved upon in the next book.

I'd definitely recommend this to romance readers, especially those who enjoy f/f romance, and I'll be looking forward to more stories from Blackmore.

Thanks to NetGalley, Bold Strokes Books, and Heather Blackmore for the e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Writing Update, January

You might have noticed that I added another manuscript progress bar to the right side of the page (and yes, I'm keeping the YA post-apocalyptic one even though I haven't worked on it in a while). The first draft of book two is currently with readers, so I find myself mostly twiddling my thumbs while I wait for their comments. To keep myself productive, my main focus over the next few months is (hopefully) going to be this manuscript, tentatively titled To the Edge of the Galaxy.

While I've written sci-fi short stories, this is the first sci-fi novel I'm embarking upon. I'm more familiar with SF movies and television than I am with SF novels (and the other way around for fantasy), so I'm also going to try to prioritize reading SF over fantasy in the foreseeable future. If you have any books you think I should read, feel free to suggest them.

My goal is to finish the first draft by the end of April. I'm shooting for 70,000 words. I have almost 9,000 right now, which means approximately 20,000 words per month. That's certainly doable, providing I don't let myself get distracted by shiny new ideas. I'm posting here to keep myself accountable.

Although I have some words already, I'm very much still feeling this project out. I originally envisioned one point of view, but now I think two might serve the story better. I'm dealing with all the exciting and scary questions that come with starting a new novel. I'm excited to see where this journey will take me!

Monday, January 29, 2018

BOOK REVIEW: Daughters of the Storm, Kim Wilkins

Daughters of the Storm is the first book in Kim Wilkins's Blood and Gold series. I have a lot of thoughts about this book, and they're not necessarily organized, so bear with me. The book is about five sisters who are the daughter of a king. Bluebell is the oldest and a warrior who is rumored to be unkillable. Rose is married to the king of the neighboring nation as part of a peace treaty, and her heart belongs to another. Ash struggles with her burgeoning magic. Ivy lives to be admired by men, and her twin, Willow, is devoted to the gods.

The story starts when their father, the king, takes ill. Bluebell believes it to be the work of magic, so she drags her father and her sisters off to save him. The synopsis also mentions a "treacherous stepbrother" intent on seizing the throne. This isn't untrue, but the sisters aren't really aware of it, which makes for an anticlimactic climax. But more on that later! I'm going to try to split this up into categories in order to keep it more organized than it is in my head.