Sunday, July 24, 2016

Book Review: The Serpent King, by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent KingThe Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Glittering Read of Snakeskins and the Way We Shed Them for Something Greater

Zentner offers not one, but three stories, deftly woven, braided together. Three friends who face the unknown, where life begins, and who they will become, which is just as important as where they come from. Despite and in spite of their families, and the many ways life delivers both fairness and unfairness, often simultaneously, The Serpent King touches on a coming-of-age story so true, so painfully true, the reader cannot help but weep, laugh, scream, and hope while reading this captivating story. I found myself struggling to put the book down, wanting to read it in one greedy sweep of pages fluttering. What an exquisite read. I learned a few new vocabulary words and I loved how those words stayed in the book. YA readers aren't dumb, and it's high time authors took them as seriously as Zentner. Looking forward to the next novel as well. Zentner made the short list of auto read authors, at least for this reader. Highly, highly recommended.

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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Book Review: The Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith

The Way I Used to BeThe Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maybe is the word spoken before we make a wish. Like, "I wish..." I wish this never happened. I wish I had stopped it somehow. I wish it had gone differently. I wish I could go back to before. I wish. I wish. I wish.

Eden was probably the kind of girl who might lay in the grass the summer before starting her four years of high school, pulling dandelion puffballs and blowing their seeds into all the wishes she could make for her life, back when it was much simpler to wish, simpler to breathe, simpler to just be.

Back when she was Edy, and before her life went spiraling out of control. A stairwell to a dark cellar where awful things happen, and claw their way back up the stairs from beneath her skin, trying to find a way out.

THE WAY I USED TO BE is raw, unflinchingly truthful, and astonishing in its portrayal of what millions of women, girls, boys, and men, and those who do not align as either, or who remain fluid, suffer through daily.

Sadly, they carry the guilt, the shame, and the fear which belongs to their abuser, as if it belongs to them, as if it is their own. And yet, it's not. It's a horrific lie told to them to keep them a prisoner, stuck on the stairs leading down into the cellar of their minds.

As Eden struggles through all four years of high school, drifting farther and farther away from the girl who used to say maybe, take a breath, and blow her wishes across the lawn or field she laid in, she wonders if she will ever find a way back to that place where she could still choose what her life might be, instead of having it already decided for her, already a nightmare she has to endure as a consequence of his actions. But I could just as easily say her actions, or their actions, depending upon whose story is being told.

As a male, I believe this book should be required reading in every sex ed class that separates out the boys and the girls, telling them how they will become adults. This book makes it crystal clear the devastation, the aftermath, the horror of what it is like for a survivor of rape to struggle through until she finds her voice and a way to speak the truth that has been shoved down so far, she doesn't even recognize herself in the mirror anymore.

Many thanks to Amber Smith, for writing what must have been such a terrible thing to have to write and live inside of for so long, until it was perfect and ready for its readers. No one wants to read about this. But we must. No one wants to talk about this, either. But WE MUST.

There were so many exquisite moments of profound truth and honesty, words of poetry so powerfully concentrated and blasting off the page as I read the lines. This is a book that needs to be processed, pondered, discussed, and shared. I intend to do all of those things, and more.

Thank you so much for writing this book, Amber. It is an honor to know you. Please, write more books chock full of truth and boiled down to the words within these pages. Amazing. Breathtaking. Heartbreaking. Powerhouse of a book. An absolute MUST READ. A book you won't regret, despite the topic.

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Book Review: The First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter

The First Time She DrownedThe First Time She Drowned by Kerry Kletter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I begin with my review, I want to thank the author, Kerry Kletter, for writing this much-needed book with all the truth and veracity between those covers, from the sun to the surf and every word in between.

It's not easy to take a journey like this one, especially one that includes drowning. It's the kind of slow, methodical unraveling that happens when parents coax their child away from the safety of the pool edge, because they believe that child is somehow ready to be out in the middle of it all, when in fact, they are not ready. Not even close. Also, there are no kick boards to use to avoid drowning, or anything really. And that's the moment the reader realizes he's out there with no land in sight, and no one watching, and that's when the tug downward begins, the insistance that the drowning is going to happen, one way or another. It's more than inevitability or destiny, as if one could ascribe purpose to the undertow, it's tenacious maw, the relentless pursuit. That is what Kletter delivers with her effortless and exquisite words, the ability to place us out there in the ocean and actually want to discover why Cassie has to drown, has always been drowning or moving toward it her entire life.

I loved the truths she learned about herself, the mistakes she made, and the way she found her own pathway back from the depths of the ocean to live another day, despite everything. Cassie is awkward and loveable, and her story is searing and powerful. I am still caught in the waves, tumbling endlessly against the shore of its pages, and I knew the truth before it surfaced once and for all in its brutal, honest way. For me, it was a visceral read, one I paced myself through so I could fully absorb it's awful beauty.

Highly, highly recommended. This is one that belongs at the very top of your TBR pile. You won't regret it.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Blog Tour: Rite of Redemption by Sarah Negovetich with Sale and Giveaway!

The Acceptance Series by Sarah Negovetich is now complete. Go forth and get yourself all three of these books and enjoy them as I have. From Book One, where Rebecca gets shipped off to the PIT and must channel her inner criminal to have any hope of getting out, to Book Two, where her life is literally on the line, and now, in Book Three, where Rebecca becomes everything The Machine accused her of in Book One, pitted against the Cardinal. For any of you who may have been living under a rock for the past three years, here's a quick recap:

RITE OF REJECTION (December, 2014)
Synopsis (Book One):
Straight-laced, sixteen-year-old Rebecca can’t wait for her Acceptance. A fancy ball, eligible bachelors, and her debut as an official member of society. Instead, the Machine rejects Rebecca. Labeled as a future criminal, she’s shipped off to a life sentence in a lawless penal colony.

A life behind barbed wire fences with the world’s most dangerous people terrifies Rebecca. She reluctantly joins a band of misfit teens in a risky escape plan, complete with an accidental fiancé she’s almost certain she can learn to love.

But freedom comes with a price. To escape a doomed future and prove her innocence Rebecca must embrace the criminal within.

A teen and young adult dystopian adventure of crime, romance and survival.
RITE OF REVELATION (December, 2015)
Synopsis (Book Two):
Before you Stands the Future.

The Cardinal plans to execute seventeen-year-old Rebecca Collins, just as soon as he gets what he needs to solidify his rule over the United Territories. Faced with certain death, Rebecca discovers not everyone is under the Cardinal's control. A new alliance helps Rebecca and her friends escape the PIT, giving Rebecca a chance to live the life her Rejection took away.

But the Cardinal needs her in order to stay in power, and he doesn't care who has to die to bring her back to justice.

Her last fight was a push to survive. This time, Rebecca has a life that might be worth dying for.

Continue the journey that started with Rejection and leads to a new Revelation. Buy Rite of Revelation today!
Synopsis (Book Three):
Rebecca escaped the PIT, found a family among the Freeman...and watched too many loved ones die. All she wants is the Cardinal to leave her in peace, but he's made it clear that's never going to happen.

When the Cardinal attacks other Freeman villages, she finally understands that no one is safe from his wrath. As the only one who's stood up to the evil that is the Cardinal, it's up to her to convince the others that they can't hide forever. It's time to fight.

The Machine predicted Rebecca would become the Cardinal's enemy. It may have gotten that one right.

In the conclusion to the Acceptance series, enemies become allies and old friends emerge, but in the end, sacrifice may be the price of freedom.
Now to learn more about Sarah Negovetich, Literary Agent, Marketing Guru, Mom, and YA Author:
Author Bio:
Sarah Negovetich knows you don't know how to pronounce her name and she's okay with that.
Her first love is Young Adult novels, because at seventeen the world is your oyster. Only oysters are
slimy and more than a little salty; it’s accurate if not exactly motivational. We should come up with a
better cliché.
Sarah divides her time between writing YA books that her husband won’t read and working with
amazing authors as an agent at Corvisiero Literary Agency. Her life’s goal is to be only a mildly
embarrassing mom when her kids hit their teens.
You can learn more about Sarah and her books at or follow her antics
on Twitter @SarahNego.

You can find more of Sarah here:

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse Speaks Out: Being Silenced Again

2016 has been an incredible year. I have witnessed many achievements as they were realized, and I have experienced many losses. Juxtaposed on either end of this continuum of achievements attained in 2016 are the publication of my debut YA novel, The Packing House, on 1/18/16, and the closing of my publisher, Booktrope, on 5/31/16, when my book goes out of print and the voice that took nearly 40 years to find goes silent once more.

  • Published my first book
  • Earned my first book award, "Indie Reader Approved" and a 4 Star review from Indie Reader
  • Inducted into Chi Sigma Iota International Honor Society for Counseling
  • Attended first Weekend of Recovery (Male Survivor)
  • Signed a contract to publish a poem and interview in an upcoming anthology to benefit, Things We Haven't Said, tentatively scheduled for January 2017 publication
  • Received high rate of 4 and 5 star reviews on The Packing House
  • Worked full time while attending grad school for counseling while maintaining a 3.9 GPA

  • First book goes unpublished as of 5/31/16 due to publisher closing
  • Demands of work and grad school schedule limit how much time I have to devote to writing additional books to recover losses
  • Despite many positive aspect of publication, poor marketing has negatively impacted book sales and reader awareness the book even exists
  • A 5 month window of being published is too narrow a window to reach the full extent of potential readers
  • Commitment to donate 20% of every book sold is limited by the length of time The Packing House has been in print, and by the poor marketing efforts which led my publisher to close.
  • Financial burden after investing in the promotion and marketing of The Packing House does not yield increased book sales
  • Despite finding my voice as a survivor of child sexual abuse through this book's publication, going out of print essentially silences my voice once more

How will I respond to my voice being silenced? I was four when I first experienced the silencing effect that shame has on a survivor of child sexual abuse. At such a young age, I found it very difficult to speak up about my abuse. It took me decades to climb out of the aftermath, the rubble, and find a way to speak about what had happened.
When I first started writing about my abuse in the form of poetry in high school, I knew I had much more to say, but had no idea how to bring the words to the surface in a way that would speak out over so many years of silence and darkness. Despite a poor attempt to begin a short story entitled, "The Packing House," it wouldn't be until years later that I would attempt to convert what was a spark of an idea in high school, into a novel. Told from the perspective of the older brother, rather than his mother, The Packing House took 3 months to write the first draft, more than 20 cover to cover rewrites, 1,000s of edits and revisions, and a full five years devoted to querying. I was offered a contract from a small press, but felt it was not the best choice. I was very grateful for the acknowledgment, but passed on that offer.
During those five years of querying, I received 8 requests for partial manuscripts from various agents, 5 requests for full manuscripts, and one revise and resubmit request. Several times, I went to the point of receiving an offer of representation, only to be passed on for a variety of reasons. At one point, another publisher closed while my book was under consideration with their Head Editor. Finally, I decided it was time to shelve the book, and begin a master's degree program when the contract offer of publication came from Booktrope. The process to take the MS and revise it to the point of publication took two full passes with three layers of edits by my amazing editor, Jessica West, and another month of work with my proof reader, the incredible Kathryn Galan, to get The Packing House to its final, published form.
Yet all of this goes back to a four year old boy who was sexually abused and silenced for what was done to him. I had a promise that I would gain back what was taken from me, and I believe there was some interest owing on that promise. I mean to get every cent back. I am not talking about money. I am talking about something worth far more than that: lives changed. Survivors who are heard, validated, and who can find a way to heal from the aftermath of their abuse. That is what I am after.
So, I am out on query now, seeking representation from an agent who is willing to risk re-publishing a book about abuse and a boy and a girl in love. I plan to finish writing book two of this planned duology, and begin one of several new series.
I have a MG series on dragons and shadows I plan to begin this summer with my two oldest boys, and a YA fairytale retelling of Beauty and the Beast in a steampunk world with a gender swap of the characters. In  my world, the Beast is the girl, and the Beauty is the boy. I've also got a YA Prom-themed murder mystery series, and a YA dystopian series about twins and multiples and a world where there is no disease, at the expense of one half of these sets of twins being held prisoner by the government.
This is your very last chance to decide to purchase your own first edition copy of The Packing House before they are no longer available and out of print. They are currently scheduled to end availability on 5/31/16. However, they could go out of print sooner, if the provider has to take them down to meet the deadline of 5/31/16. Currently you can purchase a Kindle version or Paperback at Amazon. Barnes and Noble has already removed both the Nook and Paperback version, other than a 3rd party seller who thinks you'll pay $47. Other sellers are linked in the upper right side bar.

Following this date, my rights revert to me (I already have the documentation on this) as of June 1st, and I wait to hear back from a few select agents.

I will close by saying thank you to all my readers and followers. Thank you for reading The Packing House, for reviewing and sharing your experience with others, and for recommending it to others. Without you, gaining my voice would not have mattered as much as it has. Thank you.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Smell of Smoke: Surviving the Aftermath of Trauma

            Survivors. We smell the smoke. It seeps into our clothing and surrounds us like a heavy fog. Ashes rain down like snowfall, cover us in dust, catch in our eyelashes, and clump under our fingernails. The flames have long since flickered out. Even so, the houses of our lives have burned to the ground in the aftermath of the trauma we have endured. Somehow, we made it through.
           We know what it feels like to sit down in the charred remains, to dig among the rubble, searching for meaning, something to hold onto or bring us back to the present. We try our best. Some days, we are lost. Flooded by memories that feel so real they could be mistaken for right now. Our reality is skewed. Other days, we manage to feel things as we turn them over and over in blackened hands, tracing their edges as if they could construct words and speak to us. These objects are our Braille, and we are blinded and reeling in the aftereffects of all that has happened.
            We probably look strange from the outside. The reality we walk through each day is heavy with silence, guilt, and shame. These things press down hard upon us, like the words we’ve taken in and have running endlessly on repeat just loud enough to hear, but not loud enough to consciously register them anymore. From the outside, you can’t see the devastation, the loss, or what it continues to cost us to survive.
           From your vantage point, we look rather like a lost puppy, or a homeless person begging coins and food on the street corner. The urge to turn your head and ignore us is strong. This only adds to the cacophony of silence. For the trauma to have happened, it required silence and tolerance. Looking the other way. None of that helps us. Instead, it further validates our abusers and their actions toward us. If you haven’t yet, this is where you’ll turn away.

            We keep going.

            We walk on hot coals, smoldering beneath our feet, ready to reignite at any moment a spark falls upon our steps. One memory stacks upon another, increasing the heat of the flames that relentlessly burn. Fire ebbs and flows. It comes and goes. At times, it can build until it seems an entire forest is aflame. At other times, the coalbed, while hot, is banked to the back corner of the fireplace, barely keeping the chill off. Yet, still we rub our hands expectantly for warmth.
            We are in the aftershock and there aren’t enough blankets to weigh us down and keep the shivers away. Absentmindedly, our soot-covered hands work through the ash heap looking for something else that made it through the flames, perhaps with scorch marks, but intact enough to recognize. It might as well be a mirror. That’s exactly what a survivor is, too.
            Do you know a survivor? Chances are, you do. One in four women and one in six men, before they turn eighteen, have survived child sexual abuse. The statistics for rape, of both men and women, as well as those from the trans and gender fluid communities, are even worse. All of us are survivors. All of us have endured trauma. We went through the fires. We were likely burned. Many of us are still reeling from the aftereffects. Without support, we might choose a path that includes self-medicating (such as alcohol, drugs, and other substance abuses, addictions such as porn, and self-harm) behaviors.
There is hope. There is a way through the fire. There is life on the other side. Mindfulness may help you get there. Resiliency, too. Recovery is possible. Change is possible.
Most importantly of all: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Many, many others travel with you.
Check out these pinterest boards for survivor resources:


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Release Day Celebration: The Paladins (The Artisans #2) by Julie Reece with Giveaway

Happy Release Day to
The Paladins (The Artisans #2) by Julie Reece!
Join us in celebrating this new release from Month9Books!
Enter the giveaway found at the end of the post.
Happy Book Birthday, Julie!
The Paladins Cover
The Artisan curse is broken. Souls trapped in a mysterious otherworld called The Void are finally released. Now, Raven Weathersby, Gideon Maddox, and Cole Wynter can finally move on with their lives...or so they thought. If the ancient magic is truly dead, then why are mystical fires plaguing Gideon at every turn? What accounts for Raven’s frightening visions of her dead mother? And who is the beautiful, tortured girl haunting Cole’s dreams?
Last year, a group of lonely teens sacrificed secrets, battled the supernatural, and faced their own demons to set one another free. Yet six months later, the heart of evil still beats within The Void. And the trio is forced to face the horrific truth: that their only way out is to go back in.
The Paladins completes this eerie YA Southern Gothic where loyalties are tested, love is challenged, and evil seeks them on the ultimate battlegrounds—in their minds, their souls, and their hearts.

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The Paladins (The Artisans #2) by Julie Reece Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Month9Books

Gideon’s arms slide around my waist as I stand at the kitchen sink with my snack. I’m trying to work up the courage to tell him what happened in my room this morning. All day I’ve avoided delivering the news that may derail our careful plans for fall semester.
Warm breath lingers on the back of my head sending delicious chills though my body. His fingers gently brush the skin on my stomach beneath my blouse, and I fight the urge to turn and leap into his arms. The guy emits more dangerous energy than a leaky power plant. Still, I hold back.
I was the one who wanted to go slowly. Like, first gear slow. Maybe just idle. Call me old fashioned, but I always dreamed that my first time sleeping with a guy would be with my husband on our honeymoon. I still want that, and him, but I just turned eighteen.
The muscles under his golden skin flex as his arms tighten around me. How does he make me feel safe and nervous at the same time? His nose parts the hair above my ear. Steady breaths, finally drive me to place my cookie on the counter and face him. My hands slide around his neck, fingers playing with the silky curls at his nape. I love the spicy scent of black licorice that’s distinctly his.
He lowers his head, nose rubbing mine before he lets his lips drift over my mouth. Whisper soft, his hesitant touch is an excruciating tease. Always, there’s curiosity and the promise of more to come.
My fingers untangle at his neck and drop to the bulge in his biceps. I can’t help enjoying the way they bunch when he holds me. My legs lose strength, knees weaken. There’s every possibility the boy will kiss me into unconsciousness. Can that happen? He must know because he holds me so close I hardly have the air to speak.
The Artisans
They say death can be beautiful. But after the death of her mother, seventeen-year-old Raven Weathersby gives up her dream of becoming a fashion designer, barely surviving life in the South Carolina lowlands.
To make ends meet, Raven works after school as a seamstress creating stunning works of fashion that often rival the great names of the day.
Instead of making things easier on the high school senior, her stepdad's drinking leads to a run in with the highly reclusive heir to the Maddox family fortune, Gideon Maddox.
But Raven's stepdad's drying out and in no condition to attend the meeting with Maddox. So Raven volunteers to take his place and offers to repay the debt in order to keep the only father she's ever known out of jail, or worse.
Gideon Maddox agrees, outlining an outrageous demand: Raven must live in his home for a year while she designs for Maddox Industries' clothing line, signing over her creative rights.
Her handsome young captor is arrogant and infuriating to the nth degree, and Raven can't imagine working for him, let alone sharing the same space for more than five minutes.
But nothing is ever as it seems. Is Gideon Maddox the monster the world believes him to be? And can he stand to let the young seamstress see him as he really is?

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Born in Ohio, I lived next to my grandfather’s horse farm until the fourth grade. Summers were about riding, fishing and make-believe, while winter brought sledding and ice-skating on frozen ponds. Most of life was magical, but not all.
I struggled with multiple learning disabilities, did not excel in school. I spent much of my time looking out windows and daydreaming. In the fourth grade (with the help of one very nice teacher) I fought dyslexia for my right to read, like a prince fights a dragon in order to free the princess locked in a tower, and I won.
Afterwards, I read like a fiend. I invented stories where I could be the princess… or a gifted heroine from another world who kicked bad guy butt to win the heart of a charismatic hero. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that? Later, I moved to Florida where I continued to fantasize about superpowers and monsters, fabricating stories (my mother called it lying) and sharing them with my friends.
Then I thought I’d write one down…
Hooked, I’ve been writing ever since. I write historical, contemporary, urban fantasy, adventure, and young adult romances. I love strong heroines, sweeping tales of mystery and epic adventure… which must include a really hot guy. My writing is proof you can work hard to overcome any obstacle. Don’t give up. I say, if you write, write on!
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