Tale as old as time

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Last week I went with my eight year old niece to see the uber hyped live action remake of Beauty and the Beast.

My opinion? Definitely recommended.

First: It’s clear this movie was made by people who loved the original Disney cartoon. If they read this I would tell them thank you so much for not taking annoying liberties with the story to make it into something new. They understood that nobody wanted new, they wanted a live action version of the original. This they absolutely delivered. In fact, have a look at the trailer alongside the 1991 version:

Awesome, right?? Made with love, I tell you.

Now, they did adjust a few things since we’re dealing with actors and not drawn characters (although, obviously there was CGI) but the changes were great. Wow, were there some serious wigs going on in this thing. They were so over the top — wink wink at French history — that you couldn’t help but enjoy it. At least I couldn’t.

Second: The makers chose their cast well. I loved Emma Watson as Belle, but hands down Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou stole the show for me. You could just tell they enjoyed the hell out of their roles. Considering Luke Evans played the noble and courageous Bard in The Hobbit, it impressed me how he easily switched into the petty and gorgeous Gaston for this one. Well, maybe the gorgeous part wasn’t all that hard for him because, damn.

Third: I worried that Beast wouldn’t have the compelling look as he did in the Disney version, those features of his that could be ferocious at one moment and tender the next, but this too was well done. He looked perfect. Now, the human version at the end played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens put me off totally. He just didn’t…do it for me. Something didn’t quite fit there and he seemed wrong next to Belle. Could be because he does better with the brooding frown than the expression of transcendent joy required at the end. I wonder if they chose him because he was so well known from Downton Abbey but I feel like an unknown might’ve worked better.

So, in all, it was a lot of fun. There were a couple of plot parts that were a bit thin but still it was well executed. The Disney version will forever be the true version for me, of course, but live-action or not, Belle is one of those special characters that grabbed my heart as a little girl. As an adult her song, “There Must Be Something More Than This Provincial Life” takes on a new meaning to me.

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Haha, sorry, had to share that one.

But seriously, these days it seems like the message to girls is that instead of being true to themselves, they should worry about their appearance and whether the good-looking boy thinks they’re worthy of attention. I’m not saying there’s something wrong with a girl wanting to look nice, so long as she’s doing it for herself and her own power, that she doesn’t change who she is on the inside in order to fit who someone else is. Because there’s plenty of examples of that, like the movies that show being true to yourself requires a total makeover, complete with sassy hair flipping, high heels, and a thigh high split in their dress (*cough* Elsa *cough* Sandy Olsson *cough*).

Belle contradicts this model. She refuses to be pinned down by the expectations of society that say a woman’s job is to find a man, that she can’t take care of herself and shouldn’t participate in things that require thought and action. Belle wants more for herself, even if that means people think her strange and mock her. It’s a lonely path but a brave one that we can’t help but admire her for.

This is a story that warns of the emptiness of vanity and selfishness, a romance based on the beauty within, on kindred spirits and mutual understanding.

Tale as old as time? I really hope so.

Hell Squad

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Title & Author: Hell Squad series (Books #1 – #4, Marcus, Cruz, Gabe, Reed), Anna Hackett

Genre & Publication Date: Sci-Fi Romance, April 19, 2015

Book Description: *From Book One: Marcus* “In the aftermath of a deadly alien invasion, a band of survivors fights on…

In a world gone to hell, Elle Milton–once the darling of the Sydney social scene–has carved a role for herself as the communications officer for the toughest commando team fighting for humanity’s survival–Hell Squad. It’s her chance to make a difference and make up for horrible past mistakes…despite the fact that its battle-hardened commander never wanted her on his team.

When Hell Squad is tasked with destroying a strategic alien facility, Elle knows they need her skills in the field. But first she must go head to head with Marcus Steele and convince him she won’t be a liability.

Marcus Steele is a warrior through and through. He fights to protect the innocent and give the human race a chance to survive. And that includes the beautiful, gutsy Elle who twists him up inside with a single look. The last thing he wants is to take her into a warzone, but soon they are thrown together battling both the alien invaders and their overwhelming attraction. And Marcus will learn just how much he’ll sacrifice to keep her safe.”

First Line: Her team was under attack.

My Take: Oooookay, I read four books of this eleven book (soon to be 12 book) series. Usually when I review a series I read everything that’s out but *rubs eyes* I had to stop. I’ve read so much sex with this set that I’m starting to feel like that episode on Friends when Joey and Chandler somehow got free porn on the TV and never turned it off until they noticed it began to warp their minds. So, yeah, in my ongoing exploration of the Sci-Fi Romance genre I read four books in this highly popular series–which I didn’t realize were crammed full of erotic situations. I now understand that I should’ve figured this out by the book covers alone.

But I’m rambling and not reviewing so let’s get it on–I mean, get on it–I mean, get–you know what I mean.

Warning up front: I dig into the XXX rated stuff included in the series so if that bothers you, please skip this review.

The plot, outside of the intertwining, hit on the good Sci-Fi expectations for a post-apocalyptic alien invasion, followed by an alien occupation. A group of military and civilians are hunkered in a defensible mountain military base that the aliens haven’t found. They send out teams to rescue additional civilians, as well as gathering intelligence on where to strike back. They’re trying to figure what brought on the invasion and what exactly these aliens want from Earth, especially when they start noticing that the aliens are abducting human beings. Each book moves the story along and they discover more and more about what’s really going on.

That part of the books is really interesting. If only there was more plot and less bouncing on bed springs, I’d probably have read more of the books but I’m afraid the sex (which wasn’t all that great–we’ll get to that) occupies most of the page space. We’re talking three scenes or more in each book, scenes that take up more time than the actual story itself, especially since these books aren’t very long. To be fair, I will say that the author does really well playing up the longing and tension between the two meant-to-be characters prior to the heaving and panting. I like that their emotions are involved and they actually fall in love. Call me traditional, but I like it when the characters that get together actually have feelings for one another.

The characters are likeable enough as well but the men have a bit too much of the Alpha male for my taste. A little brooding goes a long way. The author offsets this a bit by having the women MC’s be intelligent and capable, but still they fall in love with the possessive, bullish male military archetype. Layers needed there.

The Sex

All right, I can’t review this series without actually commenting on the wham-bam that went on. As frequent and explicit as things got, those scenes were really…bland. Oh, there was plenty of heat and fervor, but I noticed a lack of description in the subtler things–the stuff that makes it lush and vibrant. Does that make sense? I mean the small intimacies like the scratch of an unshaven cheek or drawing lazy patterns on warm skin or tracing fingers over broad shoulders or even (possibly entering TMI territory) the feel of a man’s weight against you. In other words, the acts were there but vividness of the experience wasn’t. It was also repetitive as hell. Every encounter was essentially the same across the books to the point that I started to wonder if all these guys read the same playbook when it came to moves. For books that are pretty much centered on those scenes, it could’ve used more imagination. In particular there was one move that ALL of them did that read really awkward. I mean, how can he slip his hand there right when he’s slamming–Okay, breaking it off here because that’s definitely TMI territory.

The Magical: I liked the alien invasion plot and the missions they went on. Lots of action and adventure on that front.

The Mundane: Could definitely do with less coupling action but something tells me that people are buying these books for that purpose.

Summary of Thoughts: The first book, Marcus, is FREE on Amazon if you’re curious about the series. I think book one was the best of the bunch because the author was busy with worldbuilding more than in the other books. Simple, straight-forward prose, these stories are good for a quick (and dirty) read. Although without much substance and easily forgettable, they’ll entertain you but don’t expect to be moved. They’re kind of like the literary equivalent of chewing bazooka gum–the flavor is gone pretty quick but it’s good enough if you’ve got nothing better.

I’m giving what I read of the series three stars on the whole for the decent Sci-Fi plot and because I know a lot of my dislike is personal preference. Those who enjoy reads centered on the erotic side will likely enjoy it.

3 Star Rating

Curious what others thought? Check out Amazon’s reviews here

Want to know more about the author and her work? Explore her website here

 

Today Only! FREE Book by A. J. York!

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Some time ago I had the pleasure of reviewing a lovely book called Eliza Bluebell.

The short version: I raved and raved.

The long version: Read my review here

Today Only (Sunday, March 19th) the author is giving it away for FREE on Amazon for her fortieth birthday (Happy Birthday!!).

You can read the first chapter on the author’s website

Or better yet, download this delightful book — It’s free, people, just go for it!

Eliza Bluebell

In the picture postcard village of Blossom Brook, Eliza Bluebell arrives changing the lives of the locals forever. With the help of her playful shadow, Eliza transforms an empty shop on the High Street into the heart and soul of the village. Find out how and read this fantastical story about friendship, butterflies and fairy cakes.

Watch the book trailer!

Grab your copy!!

Retrograde Motion (Syzygy Book 3)

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Title & Author: Retrograde Motion (Syzygy Book 3), J. K. Ullrich

Genre & Publication Date: Science-Fiction/Cli-Fi novella, January 31, 2017

Book Description: ““Whatever’s going on here, it’s bigger than any one of us.”

Ash and Skye’s rogue mission to Earth uncovers a secret with profound implications for their rival lunar colonies. But threads of conspiracy reach all the way back to the moon, and a traitor in their midst is determined to keep the truth buried. With their air supplies running out, Ash and Skye’s only chance is an unprecedented alliance…with one another.”

First Line: Anela says, “Can’t put the first line in here because it would be a huge spoiler to the previous two books. Sorry!”

My Take: This book was provided to me by the author for review.

Treading carefully with this review since it’s the third book in the series and some seriously awesome and unexpected things happened at the end of book two that I don’t want to ruin for everyone. This third installment of Syzygy is packed with loads of intriguing twists and turns and some reveals that I didn’t see coming. A new group has come on scene with our two main characters, Skye and Ash, calling into question many of the truths both have believed their entire lives (Excellent job with the science involved in explaining them!). Now they have to figure who is behind the lies and why. At the same time they are forced to make drastic choices in order to bring vital information back to their people on the moon settlements all while trying to evade forces intent on making sure they never leave Earth alive. *pants* There was so much going on I was grateful I didn’t have to breathe through a filter mask like Ash and Skye while reading this or I’d have surely passed out.

Another great ending too, so not what I thought would happen. I had a total, “Whaaaat??” moment. Nice.

The Magical: The evolving relationship between Skye and Ash has me hooked. Enemies in the beginning, they are slowly starting to respect each other’s courage and sense of duty to their respective peoples, despite that those peoples are in conflict. I love the natural pace of this change.

The Mundane: If I had to point something out it would be that the first handful of pages felt a touch on the slow side. Didn’t matter in the long run though because I knew I’d suddenly be falling through the pages, which I did.

Summary of Thoughts: Currently this novella is $1.99 exclusively on Amazon. Be sure to check out my reviews of the first two installments if you’re new to this series: Transient Phenomena (Book One) and Opposition Effect (Book Two). Syzygy is such a unique story. I really haven’t read anything like it and I read all the time (Face-in-book syndrome, right here). Part Post-Apocalyptic, part Dystopian, all Science-Fiction, it’s a blunt confrontation with the mistakes of mankind and the slender hope for a future–if we can learn from the past.

If you’re on the hunt for good Sci-Fi, pick up book one today!

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Many thanks to author J. K. Ullrich for providing a copy of the book to review!

Want to learn more about this author and her work? Explore her website here

The First Rule of Writing

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Have you ever watched any of the Gordon Ramsay shows? If you haven’t, you’re missing out because the guy is entertaining as hell. Some of the insults he hurls at the cretins in the kitchens have me wheezing with laughter. Granted, it must take courage to work with him because he’s like a General commanding an army, shouting out orders and scaring the bejesus out of the new recruits.

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He’s abrasive, he’s impatient, but we forgive him for it because he’s passionate and let’s face it, he knows what he’s talking about.

But there’s something else I noticed about him outside of these on-screen antics: He is constantly tasting new dishes. He also does a lot of traveling to eat in places renowned for their food. Not just five-star restaurants, but tiny family owned places famous for their cooking. He does a lot of research into ingredients, where they came from, how they’re grown. Why does he do all that? Because in order for him to keep the magic in his cooking, he has to continue to observe and learn how others do it. He has to taste it and see it to know it.

I’ve found the same to be true for writing so I thought I’d pass along what I’ve learned. A sometimes overlooked but vital component in the writer’s journey is that they must continue to read to keep their writing vibrant and original. Why?

Three main reasons:

  1. It gives you a front row seat to effective storytelling and narrative, characterization and dialogue, tension and pacing.
  2. It expands vocabulary (Does anyone else have a little book into which they jot down cool words they want to use?)
  3. It reinvigorates the imagination – Have writer’s block or stuck in a scene? Reading can loosen that knot faster than a tenured sailor on a clipper ship.
  4. Okay, here’s a bonus part to this: It’s fun!

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Has anyone else ever been reading a book only to stop, scratch your head, and wonder if it was written by an author who doesn’t read in the genre they’re writing or maybe at all? I see the emotion or setting they’re reaching for but they just can’t seem to effectively articulate it. I can’t help but feel this is because they haven’t seen how it’s done. One can argue that it’s a matter of talent but I feel it is more inexperience coupled with a lack of investment in learning. Pouring over books on craft is important to know the tools to writing, but reading novels/short stories/novellas demonstrates how to wield them.

But I don’t have time for reading!

Obviously, to be a writer you have to actually write books and time is limited–especially for those doing this gig on the side–but really, one has to make the time for it. I wish I had a more eloquent (or diplomatic?) response to this. Reading time is not wasted writing time. The mind is working on one’s own writing while doing it. And step AWAY from Netflix. Watching storytelling is not nearly as helpful as reading it on the page—I’ve had to beat back my lazy side when it tries to win this argument with that logic. Resist!!

Read Effectively

It’s fun to sink into a story, but a mentor of mine pointed out that it’s important to pay attention as well. I love dissecting how a book made me feel the way it did, figuring out what the author did (or didn’t do) to grab my attention. My internal monologue goes something like this: “Hm, I liked that side character. Why? How did the author make him/her distinct from the others? I’m dying to read more about the romantic subplot. How come? How did the author hook my heart?”

I observe it, take notes (yes, I’m a big nerd. are you really surprised?), and mash all that literary goodness into my own work my own way. If only dissecting frogs were this fun, I’d have totally snagged an A back during my bio/chem lab.

The biggest realization I’ve gotten from reading? Writing is not all “learn by doing”. It’s also “learn by observing”. Personally, when I’m not writing—or changing a diaper—I’ve got my face in a book. With eBooks priced at $2.99 or less (or on Kindle Unlimited or even free a lot of times), cost isn’t the barrier it used to be for this crucial aspect in a writer’s life.

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All. The. Time.

The first rule of writing for me is this: Read. Read widely and voraciously. Think like a chef. Words are the ingredients. Spend time with them outside of the kitchen.

Any writers out there live by this one? What other fundamentals help you along in your writing?

Weltanschauung

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Title & Author: Weltanschauung, Vikki Patis

Genre & Publication Date: Short Story anthology, November 4, 2016

Book Description: “The harbinger, the oddball, the remaining twin… Weltanschauung seeks to open your eyes to different stories, set in different worlds and at different times, but with the same theme in mind: to make you question your worldview.

This collection of short stories traverses genres, introduces a variety of characters, and shines a light on some of our deepest fears.

Challenge your perceptions.”

First Line: (From the first story: Zombie) The air around him was hot and close, the shadows lengthening by the second.

My Take: This book was provided by the author for review.

For those of you wondering about the title, no, it’s not just a collection of random letters strung together. It’s actually a German word meaning “world view” or the philosophical/life view of an individual or group. It’s a perfectly chosen title actually since each story travels down the oftentimes dark road of a character’s mind and the world he/she experiences. A shame English doesn’t have a succinct term for this like the German language — but then again, French needs two words (peu profond) to say the word “shallow”, so there you go.

I’ll admit up front that this is not my usual type of read. It’s quite a bit darker than my tastes normally run, which is why I continued to reflect back on the title as I went along. Each character of the five short stories starts out in a comprehensible setting, whether they are moving through a self-imposed routine, or living with trauma, or working within a warped reality and rigid beliefs. Then events intervene, things escalate, and the macabre rolls onto the stage. At turns grisly and unnerving, these stories don’t pull any punches.

I think for this reason I both liked the read and didn’t, but I also believe that was the point. Delving into the minds of these characters, their perspectives and their “world view”, isn’t something to be enjoyed so much as experienced. Unfiltered weltanschauung, if you will, and the book delivers on that promise.

The Magical: Chilling and thought provoking, the tales definitely hung around in my thoughts well after I finished them which doesn’t often happen. They also had me suspiciously eyeballing shadows and that weird guy who sometimes hangs out in front of the grocery store in my neighborhood.

The Mundane: Oddly, the gloomy nature of these stories (which is the book’s strength) is also what bothered me most, but that was the idea. It says, “Challenge your perceptions” right there in the description.

Summary of Thoughts: Currently the book is $5.00 on Amazon, or free if you have Kindle Unlimited. I have a hard time rating this one because while the stories disturbed me I also know this is exactly what they were trying to do. So, the thesis of the book definitely hit its target but it also made me feel like the volunteer from the crowd who stands in front of a bullseye with an apple on her head. The professional knife throwing Carnie gives me an enormous thrill but I’m planning on a trip to the bar after it’s over.

I’m giving this one three and a half stars — three for my personal opinion/preference and an extra half because I know those with darker literary tastes who enjoy an unsettling read will love it. If that’s you, pick this one up today.

3-5-stars

Many thanks to author Vikki Patis for providing a copy of the book to review!

Want to know more about the author and her work? Check out her awesome website and blog over at the Bandwagon where she discusses Fiction, Feminism, and Fibromyalgia.

Vote for the best stories of 2016

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It’s time to vote for best short story/novella and novel of 2016! The voting base this year has been expanded so have a look to see if you can cast your ballot for the winners!

You can check out my nominations in a somewhat bumbling post here

Also, a reminder that the book giveaway that I’m sponsoring in honor of Teen Domestic Violence month ends tomorrow. If you’d like a chance to win one of the awesome books I’m offering, have a look here (Look toward the bottom of the post for the giveaway info)

Happy voting and Happy Monday!!

Planetary Awards

We’re expanding the voting pool for the awards this year, so read this entire post to find out if YOU are eligible to vote.

But first, here are the 2016 stories nominated by book bloggers across the internet:

Short Stories / Novellas

“Athan and the Priestess” by Schuyler Hernstrom, found in Thune’s Vision

Awakening” by Susan Kaye Quinn

“Edge” by Russell Newquist, found in Between the Wall and the Fire

“The Gift of the Ob-Men” by Schuyler Hernstrom, found in Cirsova #1

“The Glass Flower” by George RR Martin, found in Volume 2 of Dreamsongs  [DISQUALIFIED]

“Images of the Goddess”by Schuyler Hernstrom, found in Cirsova #2

Paper Cut by Aeryn Rudel, found in Issue 1 of Red Sun Magazine

“Purytans” by Brad Torgersen, found in the July-August issue of Analog Magazine

Novels

Arkwright by Allen Steele

Babylon’s Ashes by James SA Corey

The Girl with Ghost Eyes by MH Boroson…

View original post 243 more words

Love Is Respect

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First off, many apologies for the blog silence the past couple of weeks (If you didn’t notice, then uh, never mind). My house and all my minions came down with a lovely cold/flu bug, followed by stomach flu, so it’s been all sleep deprivation, dwindling tissue supplies, and an orchestra of whines and coughs. And that’s just when I finally came down with it *hilarious mom joke – insert canned laughter here*

In other news, my husband had his procedure to remove the cancer they found last December and I’m happy to report that they think they got it all! He’s got follow ups and other checks coming to make sure all is well and stays well but things are looking good. Thank you everyone for all your prayers and well wishes! They meant a lot to me.

To those of you still waiting for the review of your book:

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The reviews are coming! I have definitely been reading and hope to get back on track with my review schedule soon. Thank you so much for your patience! I have definitely noticed that you have not hounded me about it. My sincere gratitude for your patience.

A couple other updates I wanted to mention: I’ve pushed out the release date for a couple of things I’d originally wanted to publish this month. The first was the conclusion to the Insurrection series. Book five is nearly there but with all the personal goings-on I haven’t had time for proper revision. Since this is the finale to the series I delayed its release to make sure I have the enough time and focus to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.

New estimated publication date: March

I also wanted to publish Submerged (Salt & Waves: Book One) a Fantasy Romance story on Valentine’s Day but for the same reasons noted above (and because my cover artist wasn’t available until later) I’m bumping that publication date out a couple of months. Love and ocean mythology are never out of season though, right? I’m planning a giveaway with this one so look for more news on that in the near future.

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Dark Frost, the first book in my YA Fantasy series Sundered Kingdoms that is slated for publication at the end of the year, is still on track. (Small mercies since my personality is not one that loves changing a deadline once it’s set.) Writing Young Adult has been a new experience for me and I really enjoy it. I know many people refer to it as a genre — the YA genre — but it’s actually not. It’s a reference to the intended audience or age range of the book, including the themes that said audience deals with. I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately. I mean, A LOT. It’s an amazing catalog of stories filled with all sorts of struggles and triumphs that make being an adult seem like a piece of cake. Lord, I remember being a teenager. That was a rough gig.

So, you’re wondering at this point why I’m bringing this up and what it has to do with the title of this post.

Love is Respect

Well, YA books tend to have their share of romance as well because, obviously, you can’t be a teenager without also grappling with heartache and feelings that are difficult to express let alone comprehend. This is a vulnerable time for them, a time when they aren’t 100% sure where their boundaries are or what boundaries even look like or what to do/how to know when someone they’re in love with crosses them. And as much as I love YA books I have noticed a concerning trend in some wherein the male love interest behaves abusively to the female main character (This is a heterosexual example) but the behavior is never called out as abusive. In fact, it’s portrayed as forgivable without any redress between them.

Recently I had the disturbing experience of reading a scene like that in which the girl’s internal dialogue blamed herself for the guy’s abusive actions. To be clear, abuse doesn’t just take the form of physical assault, but also the threat of physical assault — making someone feel like they’ll be harmed. That was the case here. The guy discovered a secret she’d been keeping from him concerning her identity (which in no way hurts him). He confronts her. The secret is confirmed. Then he proceeds to tear apart the room around her, smashing the furniture, breaking everything in sight — with his SWORD no less, so now we have a weapon involved (we’ll set aside for the moment the fact that he’s disrespecting his sword by chopping wood with it).

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This sword has been in my family for five generations. It has never known defeat. Until now.

He’s roaring and growling and when he’s done busting everything in sight, he backs her up against the wall, crowding her. She’s afraid of him at this point (duh). Did I mention she was recovering from a stab wound? She’s NAKED, injured, and the guy who supposedly loves her has her backed up against the wall, inches from her face. She’d tried to grab a blanket to cover herself but he’d ripped that away. He accuses her of making a fool of him, that everyone knew this secret except him. Well, gee, buddy, I wonder why she never told your dumb ass. Could it be she thought you’d lose your friggin’ mind like you just did? Also, she doesn’t owe you a damn thing.

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As you can imagine, there was steam coming out of my ears at this point. And this is a really popular YA Fantasy series. I’m not going to say which one but ARRRggh!! The alpha male crap that I’ve seen in books drives me to madness. Couldn’t he have just asked her point blank about it? And hey, if she lies, that’s another conversation they’ll need to have because it speaks to a trust issue. Hers and his. And if it continues down that path, well, then other decisions can be made, like whether or not to stay together. Sure, there might be yelling, but I’ll be damned if he’s entitled to make her feel afraid for her safety, if he’s allowed to intimidate her, humiliate her because he’s pissed off. The fact that this is never addressed in what’s supposed to be an epic romance between them upsets me to no end. And what does this tell our teenagers about relationships when a scene like this takes place in the books they read? “Hey, it’s okay if he treats you like trash when he feels you did something wrong.” Is that it? I would argue that this is exactly the moment when a girl can tell whether she has a keeper or not. Is he still loving/respectful even when he’s mad as hell at you?

February is Teen Domestic Violence month.

Attention to domestic violence, its forms and its prevention, is important for all age groups, genders, and sexual orientation, but I’m glad that the month in which Valentine’s Day falls is dedicated to the teens. Love is such a huge emotion for their immature brains to grapple with, it’s no wonder that studies show that the lion’s share of relationship violence occurs between ages 16 and 24. This can seem hard to believe, but it’s true. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. It’s ever more vital to ensure that the stories young adults are reading depict love as a partnership, not a hierarchy, and definitely as a relationship based on respect.

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In Dark Frost, my main character Sakari is dealing with the trauma of a past abusive relationship. There’s plenty of good ole Fantasy elements around her–magic, battles, goblins, and sword fighting–but at its core, its about a teenage girl’s recovery after abuse, finding a way to trust herself and others again, understanding what love is and what it is not. Its a theme I chose because it has personal meaning and also because I feel its something not explored enough in YA. And it should be.

Now, on to something lighter since it IS Valentine’s Day and I absolutely love “Love”…

Let’s have a BOOK GIVEAWAY!!

Today is the Two Year anniversary of Amid the Imaginary! I can’t believe it’s been two years since I began tapping out my opinions and subjecting all you innocent bystanders to my oddball ways. You all are awesome and it makes my day every time you Like or View my posts. So in honor of my followers, this blog, and Valentine’s Day, I’m giving away a print version or eBook version (winner’s choice) of any of the following Fantasy Romance books:

Option One:

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Read my review of Radiance here

Option Two:

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Read my review of this series here

Option Three:

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Read my review of The Scribe here

The Giveaway runs for one week, so until 12PM CST on Tuesday, February 21st.

All you have to do to enter is retweet anything from the Love Is Respect twitter account –an awesome organization dedicated to empowering young people to end dating violence. (Please include @AnelaDeen so I see your retweet).

Not on Twitter? Then just post a comment to this post or on the blog’s Facebook page with your thoughts about romance in YA books (Your likes/dislikes, things you’ve noticed, trends).

Or, if you’d rather not post your opinion on this subject publicly, just send me an e-mail to Amidtheimaginary@gmail.com, ATTN: YA. I understand it can be a very personal subject so this is absolutely fine.

And that’s it for me today folks! Thanks so much for hanging in there on this long winded post. Happy to be back and I wish you much love, friendship, and goodwill today and always!

Another Perspective

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When I was ten years old I began experiencing a persistent pain in my lower back, usually while walking. Since I hiked about a mile to elementary school each morning, you can imagine this became a frequent annoyance. Interesting thing about kids: they don’t always know when something is wrong. At least I didn’t. The pain was there when I walked but I just dealt with it and got on with things.

It all came to a head when my mother returned early from work one day and saw me struggling home while clutching my lower back. After a short conversation in which I explained I always had back pain, off to the doctor we went. Being a mother now, I can understand that what looked like anger on her face for my omission was actually fear. A few X-rays later and the doctor returned to our little room and announced unceremoniously, “Well, she’s going to need surgery.”

Not sure what he said after that. My entire being snagged on those words. My mother too I think because the doctor darted a look between us and murmured he’d be right back. As soon as he left the room the two of us clung to each other and dissolved into frightened tears.

The Diagnosis: Spondylolisthesis

I nicknamed it “Spondy” because, really, why are these medical classifications so ridiculous? This condition results when one vertebra slides over the bone below it, causing pain, numbness, and weakness in one or both legs. And there was ten-year old me walking a mile to school each way every day with it. I was a scrappy kid. Spindly, but scrappy.

I’ll spare you the gritty details of the days leading up to the surgery, the waiting room outside the prep area on the day itself, the wacky anesthesia induced hallucinations as I went to surgery (they used gas on kids back then), and the two week recovery in the hospital. When it was all over, I was looking ahead at three months in a body cast to give my spine time to heal while immobilized. The cast encircled my ribs and encased one leg to just below the knee. Being the kid I was, I took it in stride. Hey, the pain was gone. Things aren’t so bad. Of course, I hadn’t figured out that I’d have to deal with the world while wearing this thing. In point of fact, I didn’t realize there was anything to deal with at all. Then came school.

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Having been able-bodied all of my life up to that point, I knew full well what other kids called the handicapped school bus I had to ride. I’m betting the disabled kids knew it too. The Retard Bus. The one that doesn’t look like the other normal buses. Everyone’s head swiveled to watch us unload from it and my awesome body cast made me walk with a hampered, jerky limp. Oh the stares. The frowns. If reality had text bubbles that showed people’s thoughts, they would’ve read, “What’s wrong with her?” “She walks funny.””I don’t like it.” That last was the big one, the way people seemed simultaneously repulsed by the way I moved and drawn to watch.

Yet, I was lucky. I had an amazing homeroom teacher who took the time to explain what was going on with me to my classmates (after clearing it with me), what surgery was, what a body cast was, and most importantly, that I was still me while inside it. She normalized it. She made it okay and everyone followed her lead. She also threw down the hammer, telling them that if anyone knocked me over that person would be in more trouble than they ever thought possible. To this day I appreciate her ferocity and her understanding. (Ms. Seamen, you’ll always be my favorite.)

It occurred to me, even then, what might things have been like if she’d been like the ones who stared? While we can forgive little kids for not knowing how to behave, what does it say about our society when adults do the same thing because, oh man, I experienced plenty of that. Sometimes I rode in a wheelchair, particularly in malls where my limp made distances difficult. I was never prone to self-consciousness until then. It came with the unease of others, the way people avoided looking at me but looked at me when they thought I couldn’t see, the way they edged away, the way I existed too much or not at all. There was never a moment when I could simply be in a place as myself and not as the disability they observed. It was impossible to ignore. That was hardest, this loss of self. Am I still me when no one else sees me?

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The answer, if I could talk to my ten-year old self, is yes, of course you are still you, but you’ll have to fight for it because the rest of the world will try to tell you that the extent of your “self” is the body you inhabit, not the soul inside. As an adult I look back on that glimpse I had of disability and imagine what it’s like for those who can’t remove it like I did the body cast. It’s something I reflect on frequently, especially these days, and is an influence in my writing.

Over on Intisar Khanani’s blog, she is doing an amazing series of posts on disability in fiction which everyone should check out (The first post can be found here). As a kid I loved books and the adventures they took me on (ahem, and as an adult too) though I find it hard to come up with a title with a hero/ine who wasn’t able bodied. There’s the occasional side-kick or family member (or villain), but even if those character presences aren’t polluted by unflattering tropes, they aren’t the main character. The absence of these voices in fiction and on TV deprive society of truly understanding itself. If there was more visibility would it improve the way the disabled are viewed/treated? I think it would.

Need an example?

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Take Tyrion from Game of Thrones, a favorite character for so many. Have you seen the forums? They discuss the man inside, his intelligence, his empathy, his smart mouth. They also discuss the things he deals with because of his dwarfism. The show and books bring that experience to light for those who know nothing about it. Now imagine the story without this voice. It would be lesser for it. The same is true for every world, with or without dragons.

What are your thoughts on disability in fiction? Are there any titles you would recommend?

Because, Star Wars

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rogue

With more than a little trepidation, I ventured out to see the new Star Wars movie, Rogue One. Why was I nervous? Well, in recent years the Star Wars franchise has jerked me around so much with its piss poor plots and shallow, underdeveloped, annoying characters, that they have pretty much destroyed my sense of security in their ability to put out a good story in that universe. I won’t even go into the Star Wars episodes I – III. As far as I’m concerned, those Do. Not. Exist.

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And if the new episode VII (The Force Awakens) is anything to judge by, then the coming movies are headed for the same situation. I realize a lot of people liked it, but I just couldn’t get over the Grand Canyon sized plot holes in it and unbelievable junk that occurred. Seriously, Han Solo just fell back into his smuggler life after EVERYTHING he went through? Seriously, Rey can just access the Force by closing her eyes and concentrating super hard-sies? So much so that she can outmatch a trained Sith Lord? This is a joke right? Not to mention that said Sith Lord doesn’t hold a candle to Darth Vader as far as presence and terror, and good gawd did he have a punch face. I hope they aren’t aiming for him to have a moment of truth and reform his baddie ways–or maybe they will since pretty much the whole plot was a watered down, half-ass version of the original, down to the super weapon (another one???) and family member who went to the dark side and reclusive old Jedi (as if Luke would just cool his heels at some ass end of the galaxy while it all went to crap. The Jedi are made of stronger stuff.). Obviously, my disappointment was a raw, ugly thing.

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Yeah, it’s hard to recapture the magic of the original trilogy. Everything they did was new, from the no-nonsense, butt kicking Princess who took over her own rescue, to the scrappy smuggler with a heart of gold, to the unprecedented special effects and the cockpit view of the pilots in their fighter wings–anyone else feel the loss every time one of them blew up? If I say Wedge Antilles, Star Wars fans know exactly who I’m talking about and the guy had only a handful of lines. Now that’s good writing.

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So I went to see Rogue One, nervously. A couple of friends told me it was worth it so I decided to give it a chance, hope in my heart. What did I think? *relieved sigh* It was good. Not amazing, blow me out of the water good, but I really liked it. I liked the main characters. I liked the main thrust of the story and the side characters that went with it. There were some flubby parts, places where I was supposed to feel more invested than I actually did, but some of that is because they just didn’t have time to dedicate to the emotional stuff with all the plot stuff happening. Well, I’m sure Joss Whedon could’ve gotten it done but we can’t have the man oversee everything. I was worried I’d hate the droid side-kick, but he turned out to be fantastic and hilarious. The voice actor delivered his lines perfectly. I had a feeling where things were going to lead in the end and that’s what happened, but they did it really well. In fact, the ending hit all the awesome buttons and synced flawlessly with where A New Hope began.

And I’ve got to talk about this one Darth Vader scene *giddy shudder* that was done so well that you could feel how much the people making this movie loved his character. Whatever Vader was holding back when fighting Luke is absent in one jaw-dropping battle in which you realize the Sith Lord isn’t so much a minion of the dark side as he is a weapon of mass destruction. And trust me, that knowledge is stamped on the faces of the rebels the moment they see him approach.

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*claps* Well done. Honestly, thank you. That was an epic Star Wars moment worthy of its name.

One of the biggest pros of this Star Wars story is that it’s a self-contained tale. You will not have to wait two years to see the ending. For once, we’ve got a beginning, middle, and end. If you’re like I was and can’t make up your mind as to whether to risk another disappointment, give this one a try. You’ll be glad for it.

The trailer: CAUTION: Contains Star Wars feels:

Okay, and here’s another one because, you know, I’m exited about it:

Has anyone else seen Rogue One? What did you think?