Whatcha Reading? September 2016

September was… not the greatest. I hit the wall pretty hard, but I’d gotten off to a great start.


I’m not one for Lovecraftian horror. Things from space and things from the deep dark sea generally don’t do it for me, but Cherie Priest’s “lowbrow” pitch of Lizzie Borden battling Cthulhu with an ax was pretty damn compelling.

The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.

But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.

This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.

The best part is the Cherie took notes and records from Dr. Owen Seabury, the real physician for Abigail Borden, and she didn’t really need to do much other than add fish people. Truth is stranger than fiction. I really enjoyed Maplecroft and I look forward to reading Chapelwood.


I got an ARC of this one to review, and I loved it. I’ve never read any of the original Sherlock Holmes books, but I was so excited to see this on the grab list.

With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society.  But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London.

When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind.

I’m working up my review for Criminal Element, but this was one of the best books I’ve read all year. I’m excited to continue with this series.

And really, those were the only two books I’ve read. I’m starting October with another ARC, one I like less well but fits into the theme of “women in pretty dresses with their backs turned.”


On a quest to distract her lifelong friend Jeremy from his recent heartbreak, Lady Emily organizes a holiday in Greece. As a lover of all things Greek, she quickly finds herself occupied with tours of ancient ruins, lively debates with Margaret, a devoted Latinist, and slightly more scandalous endeavors with her dashing husband, Colin Hargreaves. But the pleasantries are brought to an abrupt halt when a man long believed dead greets the party at their island villa. Lord Philip Ashton, Colin’s childhood best friend and Emily’s first husband, has returned. But can Philip really be who he claims, even if he has the scars and stories to prove it? Where has he been for all this time? And will his undying love for Emily drive him to claim what’s his?

Intrigue mounts as Philip reveals that he has been plagued for the past few years by an illegal antiques trader who believes he is in possession of a piece of Achilles’ helmet, a priceless relic that was stolen from him moments after he unearthed it on an archaeological dig. Emily must employ all of her cunning and expertise to thwart thieves who threaten not only her own safety, but that of those precious artifacts she holds so dear. A trail of overheard conversations, murderous assailants, and dead bodies leads her on a chase to uncover more than one buried truth.

The voice is pretty good, but damn, the manpain and whining are extreme. I think she’s telling the wrong story, but that’s a conclusion for next month.

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The World Doesn’t Exist in a Black Box

I started taking myself “seriously” as a writer about five years ago. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always had an insatiable need to write, I’ve always been “the writer” amongst my friends, and this has been both a good thing and a terrible thing. For one, the praise I’d experienced in high school for my essays blinded me to areas I needed to improve upon once I reached college. My first C absolutely floored me. I was the girl with merit grades, paraded before the class and lauded with honors. Until that point, I’d never gotten less than an A, and I was irate. It took me a long time to realize I wasn’t top in my class anymore; I was in a class now with everyone else who’d been top in their classes.

We’re all constantly learning, and we should be learning. There’s always room for improvement. Writing is one of those things where anyone can do it, but not everyone has the ability to tell a story well, and not everything can be taught. It’s kind of like baking a cake. I can bake a cake. I can follow directions on a box, but whether or not the cake turns out edible is anyone’s guess. I’m not a baker.

Really. Don’t trust anything I make.

I’ve had the feeling that something was missing from my work since I started querying two years ago. There are things I do naturally well: I’m good at banter, I’m good at humor, I’m good at writing dark creepy things. I have a strong Voice. I’ve heard “this book was great” and inflicted a book hangover or two.

My rejections have all read the same: “this is a great idea, but I just didn’t connect.” It’s hard to figure out where you’re going “wrong,” if you’re going wrong. The market is subjective. But when each rejection said the same thing, some sprinkled with nice comments about my talent or my humor, I knew there was an issue.

I wrote another book, and the same thing happened.

I wrote a third, and that’s when I asked for help. Thanks to my darling friend Cat and my CP Sarah, we figured out my problem is interiority.

I’m a method-writer, in the way many of us are–we spend our time being other people after all–but for me, I get so immersed in character and time that I forget to bring the reader with me. I’m too busying being to remember that my reader isn’t clairvoyant. When I write, I see everything like a play: the staging, the lighting, etc. The characters are fully-formed, three-dimensional people. They’re real. They exist.

In my head.

And that’s the problem. I write in a theatre, but it reads in a black box. Cat was kind enough to look at three chapters from all three of my books, and it was the same issue: I was missing interiority.

Interiority is weird for me, and I couldn’t see it because I was too in my head. I wasn’t expressing my character’s actions or their inner thoughts. I wasn’t exploring the whys. It’s the different between

“Gale strolled past the copious selection of pastries, popped a chocolate bonbon into his mouth, and smirked as Calamity masked her frustration at the empty vase stand before her,” and

“Gale strolled past the copious selection of pastries, enticed by the sweetly tart scent of candied citrus and bitter dark chocolate. He popped a tiny bonbon into his mouth and smirked. Across the ballroom, Calamity stomped her heeled shoes, fists balled in frustration directed at the empty pedestal before her.”

These are the opening lines of my current WIP, which is a total departure from the three books I’ve previously written. The first paragraph doesn’t set the scene nearly as well as the second. In the new opener, Gale smells the desserts, he tastes the bonbon. It’s more sensory and I put you in the room with him. You know, because the world doesn’t exist in a black box.

Since this is a new book–new genre, new era, new everything–I wanted to start fixing my interiority issue here before going back to edit previous work. When I first started, I wasn’t sure what I was doing or if I was doing it. I was trading snippets with Sarah in the literary equivalent of “Can you hear me know?”

“Did I do it now? Did I get it now? Am I doing it? Did I get it?”

It felt overwhelming. I felt like I was revealing too much, that I was telling and not showing, that I was over-saturating everything. It felt like so much because I hadn’t been doing it at all. My first book had more interiority then next two; my second was closer, but needed more whys; my third book… well, it’s resting while I work on this new one, but I’d venture that it might be a bit better, given that Sarah pushed to me explore Violette’s whys when I was struggling with the narrative.

Seriously, I can’t state enough the importance and value of good critique partners.

And now that I get it, it’s a wonder I didn’t notice in the first place. I do have to remind myself to include it, but it’s far easier now that I can see what I’m (not) doing. Hopefully, I’ve got it this time. I think I do. I can see that I’m getting better and my book is getting stronger.

Of course, added interiority likely also means that when I do something terrible, you, the reader, will cry that much harder. I need a lot of tears to keep my bathtub brimming.

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The Con Blog, 2016

Last week, I was at DragonCon in my best dresses and new hat.


Yes, everything I own is basically black lace.


Today, I’m at home in Slytherin lounge pants.

Con season is always weird because it’s either a year away or it’s tomorrow and the in-between does not exist. This marks my sixth (seventh?) DragonCon, and to be frank, I wasn’t looking forward to it. The past two years left me a bit cold in terms of programing and direction. Year one I chalked up to new management; everyone has a poor year on occasion. Last year, though, I was equally bored. I’m sure it didn’t help that I had to commute all weekend.

When I looked at the panel listing this year, I felt much the same ennui. The saving grace this year (as any year) is getting to see my friends, and as I mentioned in my last post, I finally met Kira Butler. We’ve known each other for a few years, and when she told me she was coming down for DragonCon, I freaked right out. Guys, this gal is awesome.

What I love best is when I meet people face to face and that insta-friend thing happens, that whole, “We’ve known each other forever and this is great and man, you smell really nice” deal. And she did. Kira smelled super nice. I wish we’d gotten to hang out more, but we did go out for dinner and I hope she comes back next year and the Gathering of Strange Women continues annually.

And then two astonishing things happened:

One- I was on my first ever DragonCon panel. In front of a packed room. I wish I’d thought to take a photo because it was standing room only. Since my dear friend Leanna was going to be late, I asked if I could step in, and was approved. I’ve paneled before at AnachroCon, but doing so at DragonCon has been one of my goals forever. Check.

Two- In the same conversation in which I asked to sit on the panel, I was asked if I’d want to be Kathryn’s second for the Lit track at AnachroCon. So now you’re reading the blog of the second for AnachroCon’s Lit track. I have no idea what I’ll be doing or how to do it, but I’ll figure it out. I’m excited.

I spent a lot of my “down” time at the Westin Bar (as the writers do), and I got some work done on my current book, as well as a couple of sketches of my own characters, and one of Leanna’s. Listening to her righteous anger at Penny Dreadful was certainly a highlight of my weekend, as was getting to spend time with her in general. I admire her greatly.

On the last night of Con, I was gifted this magical* clear bouncy ball. I was assured it would show me my dreams without the trouble of my having to solve a labyrinth, though The Goblin King was not included in the package.


*might not contain real magic. Your mileage may vary.

I laughed and denied the bouncy ball before ultimately taking it, and now it’s sort of …earned it’s own magic. It’s funny how things unintentionally take on meaning. Now the bouncy ball lives on my desk.

In a final burst of grace from the universe, on my way to the train Monday afternoon, a tourist pointed me out to his wife and child as I stepped onto the escalator, saying, “Look, there’s a vampire.”

I had one of those moments of “Where?” before realizing he meant me. I’ve arrived. I am legit.

DragonCon is now a week past somehow and I’m tired; the usual con-exhaustion plus day job and men working on the house exhaustion. And edging in just below the wire is the first thread of depression. It’s not the missing my friends, or the con, it’s being worn down. It happens every year like clockwork. I’m attempting to stay busy: I have a book I’m loving, artwork to finish, blogs to post, podcast episodes to write (maybe), but I know it’s there. Lurking.

I want to be nicer to myself than I was last year. I want to make sure I’m taking care, doing only what needs to be done, and not taking on projects I don’t have to. I’m watching Stranger Things on Netflix because I’m way late to the party and it’s a fantastic show. I have high hopes for next DragonCon, and for AnachroCon next February.

I’m making plans.

I’m hanging on to that magical, star-filled bouncy ball.

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Whatcha Reading: August 2016

It occurs to me that when I’m reading ARCs, I typically don’t read anything else. August was a swamp of insane Day Job hours, 20 chapters edited on one WIP, 12k written in another (it’s currently at 15k), DragonCon prep (which will be over when you read this), and not quite being able to recharge my introvert batteries.

And as I head to DragonCon, and four days of being “on,” I’m hoping I can draw in that energy from seeing my friends. I finally get to meet the inimitable Kira Butler, which I am very much looking forward to.

Anyway, I read only one book (I’m pretty sure) and that was Jessica Estevao’s Whispers Beyond the Veil. I received this book to review for Criminal Element, and though I didn’t say anything I didn’t mean in that review, I wanted to say more, especially as I’m going through the process of strengthening my own writing.


Overall, it was an okay book. I’m not mad at it. Fine, I’m a little mad, but it’s mostly my own fault for not reading the synopsis entirely. I was excited to see a book set in Canada (books are never set in Canada) and though it does start “in Canada” (in the nebulous way things are set “in” places but not really), the narrative takes places in Maine.

The premise is fair enough: Ruby grew up in a medical show selling cure-alls and tonics to desperate men and women, occasionally reading tarot cards to earn some extra cash. Every now and then throughout her life, Ruby hears a voice offering guidance. Trusting it to instinct, Ruby usually listens, but the one time she doesn’t heed the voice leads to disasterous consequences.

The thing is, I don’t really buy it. Ruby’s father buys a slew of “invigorators” from a medical sales man, which are basically electroshock machines. He believes these devices will be the next big thing and demands Ruby help him test them out. When Ruby oversleeps, she arrives in the tent to find Johnny, an Indian man who also performs in the medical show, strapped to the device. The voice tells her not to flip the switch, she does it anyway, and boom, zap–Johnny’s a corpse.

Which, to be honest, would be more impactful if there had been any sort of character development for Johnny. I just told you everything I know about him in the three pages leading up to his untimely death. He is, in essence, a murder of convenience. His sole purpose is to give Ruby a reason to run, and this is, in many ways, problematic.

  1. Johnny has no characterization other than he’s a Maliseet Indian man, he’s got a crush on Ruby, and he’s nice enough. I don’t know why I should feel bad other than being electrocuted sucks. Did Ruby love him? Were they friends? Why should I care?
  2. He’s not just a murder of convenience; he’s a person of color murdered for convenience. This one gets a little sticky because of the historic context. In the Victorian Era, PoCs were generally servants, slaves, or sideshow workers. Yes, there were free men and women, but it took a very long time for PoC find work other than labor. They were considered less than citizens, if they were considered people at all. I don’t know what feelings toward native people were/are like in Canada, modern or otherwise, but 1) Ruby accidentally killed him, and 2)… I don’t think anyone would care. This issue pops up again on American soil, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
  3. It’s all very rushed. All of this happens in Chapter One, and two chapters would have been fine. More than fine. It would have left room for developing interiority and character depth.

In any case, Ruby flees. I’m drawn away from the narrative by a random POV switch as Ruby steps off the train. I don’t see any of this, but allegedly, Ruby is accosted by a pickpocket, she beats him down with her parasol, and manages to slip and bump her head into the docks. She wakes in the police station, understandably freaking out, but I watch all of this from Officer Yancey’s head. I’m not sure why the author chose to do this, but I’m more than a little bummed that she pulled away from what would have been an awesome scene. Ruby still could have woken in the station, but that was a perfect opportunity for interiority.

Sadly, every time the action mounts, I’m pulled away from Ruby and stick with Yancey. The pacing becomes an issue, and Yancey doesn’t help. Maybe I’m just murder happy, but it takes 25 chapters for someone to die. It took me 26 chapters to realize the officer’s first name is Warren, not Yancey Yancey as I’d assumed since even his own mother and sister refer to him by his last name.

Least you think I’m a negative Nancy, I did have good things to say, which I did over on Criminal Element. Like I said, as I’ve been editing and trying to strengthen my own writing, things like this become more evident when I read. It’s a bit like learning how graphic design works to entice the consumer: once you know the secrets, life is a little ruined.

The second issue dealing with the race comes after Ruby changes her story about the pickpocket. She describes her attacker as having a “savage, murderous rage,” which is then misconstrued by the police chief in front of Officer Yancey immediately after Ruby departs (Ruby and the chief even exchange pleasantries.) He tells Yancey it’s obviously someone from the Indian village, and Yancey blames the racism on Ruby. This I don’t buy either. Again, it’s just done for convenience, and this is problem.

This is one of those cases were pointing out bad representation is important. It’s hard in historical context to maintain reality while balancing a “progressive” view. Erasure is real, and so is perpetuating damaging tropes. In this case, the misplaced racism skips the racist white man in power and falls on Ruby. Yancey, of course, suffers no repercussion for his mistake, even after he realizes he was wrong.

I won’t even start on his sexism masked as progression.

As in the last ARC I read, there’s also a disconnect between the crime and clues. The murderer shows up once, and doesn’t show up again until the end of the book. Another character is caught planting evidence, but is never questioned about why she was breaking into Ruby’s room, how she got the evidence, or how she may have been involved. There’s another, unrelated murder that’s mention and then completely forgotten.

I know this is the first in a series, while it reads well as a stand alone (and I do like when they stand alone) there are so many loose threads left at the end that I wonder why they were mentioned at all. There’s no lead to the next book or next clue. They don’t feel intentional. They’re forgotten.

No book is perfect. A book doesn’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable, but seeing so many problematic and troubling things makes me look at my work that much harder. Am I doing unintentional harm? Am I being mindful?


I started Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft, and though I’m not a Lovecraftian Horror kinda gal, I do love me some Lizzie Borden. I’m about 1/4 of the way through and I’m loving it. Cherie is one of the people I’m excited to see this weekend, and I’m excited to finish her book. I also have an ARC of A Study in Scarlet Women, which I’m also pretty jazzed about.

What are you reading this month?

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Books Gone Film

I never get to the movies as often as I’d like. I was way behind on Deadpool, never did get to see Civil War, it’s unfortunately rare that I manage to get to a theater before the film I want to see is replaced by something I probably don’t want to see. Lately, though, the list of things I want to see is growing as more and more of the books I love are being made into films (or at least optioned).

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is one of many books destined for the big screen, along with Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. The trailer for A Monster Calls dropped a few weeks ago, and though I haven’t read the book (that’s a different time constraint), it looks fantastic. I’m also excited about Stephen King’s IT remake, though remakes put me on edge, and no, it’s not just about the clowns.

But I hate clowns, so they are a contributing factor.

This leads me to another crossroads: more than finding time to hit the theater, I’m always terrified when books are made into movies. There’s a lot of potential for a good adaptation, and thus an equal amount of potential for bad. Essentially, books are so much more in my head, and the main limitation I see is time.

Baz Luhrmann’s take on The Great Gatsby was either adored or appalled by Fitzgerald fans. I loved the ingenuity of modernizing a story set in the 20s through the soundtrack while keeping the era intact. By some miracle, I did catch that one in theaters about a day before it went out. I never did see his remake of Romeo + Juliette, but I imagine it’s along the same lines.

In a rare reversal, I did see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button before I’d read the book. Well, short story. I was also fairly impressed with The Woman in Black. The deep sense of dread was spot on, despite a few hiccups and cheesy jumpscares. Nothing is quite as up to par as Vincent Price’s versions of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales when it comes to the Gothic though. He had me at “nevermore.”

I can’t help but feel some books translate into film better than others. I’m excited to see how Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children turns out (not to mention I adore Eva Greene), but I’m worried it’ll slant like Alice in Wonderland, which–and this may surprise you–I did not like. At all. Tim Burton has done some of my favorite adaptions (Sweeney Todd, Sleepy Hollow), but his Alice fell short and kept on falling.

I think I’m infinitely more comfortable with books being adapted for television. One episode translates to a chapter, one book translates into a season. It makes more sense and in way, frees up that time constraint, just a bit. With a season, there’s more room for inclusion, like the BBC’s Sherlock, which features hour-and-a-half long episodes for a truncated season.

Which feels more like watching a mini movie and may have just contradicted my previous statement. You know what I mean. There’s something different about presenting books as series as opposed to film.

The first trailer for Neil Gaiman’s American Gods dropped at San Diego Comic Con (you can watch it here on Varity’s site)American Gods is one show I’m particularly . . . concerned about. I love the book, I love the casting, I love that Brian Fuller is the showrunner, but in a world where most media is white-washed and the content curtailed, I’m not wanting to get my hopes up. Luckily, Fuller has cast diversely, with conscious effort in consulting Gaiman regarding the ethnic diversity of his characters.

This is an issue we saw in The Hunger Games trilogy; in the book, Katniss is describe more Asian than white (though casting specifically called for white females), and I doubt anyone’s forgotten the uproar of Amandla Stenberg being cast as Rue, despite Rue being canonically black.

The other point that makes me worry is whether or not the female characters will be given autonomy, or if they’ll live. American Gods is a gritty book and I’m betting with Fuller on board, it’ll be a gritty show, but I would like my ladies to live, please and thank you. However, Fuller also served as the director for Hannibal, which I loved, so maybe my worry is unfounded.

I hope my worry is unfounded.

I’m very much looking forward to V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, which was picked up for television early this year. Schwab is writing the pilot, which is extra exciting. I can’t wait for A Conjuring of Light to release so I can devour it and then reread the series in anticipation. And probably in tears.

What are you most looking forward to seeing on the silver screen? Was there an adaption you loved, or one you thought totally failed?



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Balancing Act: Wire Walking for Writers

I am, by far, not the most coordinated gal. I have a tendency to take on too much, get overwhelmed, and find it impossible to accomplish anything. Back in May, I tried the “sticker thing,” where you assign a task/goal to a sticker and then you get a sticker for doing it. Easy, right?

I promised myself a red star for every thousand words written, a orange star for 500, and a yellow start for going to the gym.


11.5k in two weeks isn’t half bad. Over all, I wrote over 20k, which isn’t NaNoWriMo level word counts, but I was impressed with myself. There’s even a 2k day on there! I advanced the WIP from 15k to 40K. I wish I still had a photo of the completed month, but alas, it is gone.

Sadly, June went up in smoke. I didn’t follow the star pattern, even though I really enjoyed doing it and I liked how glittery my day planner was. The WIP hit a wall and I couldn’t see my way around, through, or over it. If you read my Whatcha Reading post, you know my creative well ran dry and I was effectively beached. In fact, in a moment of self-doubt, I quit. Forever lasted about six days this times, but I was spent.

I bought a new planner, and I swore up and down that I’d try again. And would you look a that:


So sparkly.

If you can’t read the guide, the red stars are 500 words, the yellow are gym days, and the orange is two chapters edited. Part of my learning to balance is making time to write AND revise. If I hit 500 words, I’d switch and edit. Two chapters down, and (if time) I’d go back to writing.

As you can see, I work a varied schedule at The Day Job, running anywhere from 6am to 11pm. Some days, it’s difficult to find time, and clearly, I didn’t write every day. I feel like “not finding time” is a poor excuse, but remember what I said about being overwhelmed? It doesn’t help when your Day Job involves dealing with the public. I find people draining, especially when my work week is 4+ days long. I can’t always find time in between to recharge, and that effects everything else.

In the interim, I’ve been dealing with my autoimmune disorder and an unfortunate allergic reaction to one of the medications. Being itchy for three weeks was not really what I wanted. Being sick is also very tiring, and I often feel limited when my symptoms flare. I want to use that “sick time” to write, catch up on blog posts, but 9 times out of 10, it’s me watching YouTube tutorials and contemplating peeling my skin off with a potato slicer.

In assigning “tasks” to stars, I felt more in control of what I could manage and when, and damn is it nice to see what I’ve accomplished. Writing is kinda of like exercise in that you don’t necessarily see your progress because you’re staring at yourself the whole time. The stars let me step back and gain a different view.

They also told me I need to hit the gym more.

I wrote 13.5k this month, with a 2.5k day in which I finished the draft. It’s now tucked away, resting. In a little less than two weeks, I did the first revision pass on my YA. While that, too, gains some space, I’m picking at a new idea, code name: Black Magic Book, and going back for another round of revision on my adult novel.

I feel balanced, which is something I haven’t felt since I started multiple projects. Learning to write and edit is step one. I’m not particularly fast regarding either task, and that’s perfectly fine. At the moment, I have to space and time to work at my own pace. No deadlines (unless it’s a review or something for one of the two sites I freelance for), no pressure except that I place on myself.

The big lesson is that I really do need to be nicer to me. Take myself out for a chai and relax and pick away at a new book or an old chapter. Don’t berate myself for being run down, but replenish my energy.

Finally watch Deadpool five months later.

Hopefully, I stay on the high-wire. My goal is to get ahead with a couple of blog posts, some LONG over due, prepare to take the YA out for querying (which I’d intended to start in May and the LIFE happened), and maybe even rack up a couple of scripts for my poorly treated podcast. Research is another thing I need to make time for.

My tendency to jump into things isn’t always rewarded.

And with this, that’s one blue star for me, and we sally forth into August.

…How the hell is it August?


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Whatcha Reading? June/July 2016

Well, I sure fell off on these, didn’t I? June was an exceptionally trying month, reading-wise.

I started with Alison Goodman’s The Dark Days Club, which my friends had all told me was excellent.

They were not wrong. It was great.


I don’t often read Regency-era novels, but this one is true to period, also mentions Lord Byron (whom I love), and presents a unique “superhuman” circumstance in giving super strength and the power to stop monsters to a titled society lady. Helen’s reluctance to accept her gift warring with thoughts of “Lord Carlston’s lips” was a fairly compelling story line. Goodman balances the era’s perception of women with opened-minded characters who encourage Helen to embrace her strengths. I really enjoyed this one, and I’m looking forward to book two!

Unfortunately, June took a deep nose-dive when I received an ARC of Arsenic with Austen for review. I believe in reading outside your comfort zone; though I’m not a big fan of the cosy genre, I thought this one had potential, and I was sort of hoping the title was an allusion to the debate on whether or not Austen died as a result of an overdose of arsenic. You know medicines in those days weren’t exactly… helpful.


This book began decently and quickly dissolved into a massive train wreck. Set in 2013, Emily, a professor at Reed College in Portland, receives word that her great aunt has died. Okay. She’s left an inheritance. Okay. It turns out to her aunt’s estate, $6 million dollars, and half the town of Stony Beach. Okay.

Except the lawyer mailed the death notice to the college and if she “hadn’t checked her box, she might have gotten it next fall!” No. That’s not how that works. Emily has a peculiar habit of verbally speaking to her late husband’s ghost, like, in actual questions she’s mentally answering for him. Oh, and my favorite: the unrequited teenage romance she dare not think of, but mentions every five minutes. The writing is poor, coupled with what I assume were supposed to be “humorous” quips regarding how Emily’s aunt drilled proper grammar and diction into her from a young age. The author also makes a point to call out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, not as retelling of Austen she didn’t care for, but for being a work she can’t fathom being published by a serious house, let alone how the indie and self pub works make it into proper bookstores.

Here’s a tip: maybe don’t insult indie and self pub people. The road is different for everyone. Don’t knock someone because they didn’t take the same path you did. Did I like P+P+Z? No, I don’t begrudge it being in Barnes and Noble. There’s no reason to kick someone else, especially when your work is also flawed.

Aside from the eye-roll worthy dialogue, there’s no actual plot. Whole chapters pass by in which Emily is actually taking a survey of the townspeople asking how they feel about increasing the tourist trade; of course, the mayor and a seedy vampire-esque realtor are totally trying to get Emily to sell, to the point where they may have murdered her aunt.

Yeah, no. The author needed to do more research on how dead bodies work and how to investigate a crime.

No one dies from “acute gastroenteritis.” If your housekeeper breaks her neck falling down the basement stairs twelve hours before you return, you won’t smell blood and rotting flesh. In fact, you won’t smell blood unless someone bleeds out, which breaking your neck does not cause.

Most importantly, real police don’t watch episode of tv shows wherein the guy you suspect murdered your aunt played a murderer to “see how he did.” What? And for some reason, Emily doesn’t know what Netflix is. Okay. My mother is also 51, and SHE knows what Netflix is.

It’s also not a murder “mystery” if all of your “suspects” turn out to be involved in the murder.

The unfortunate consequence of this book was that my well ran dry. I struggled to come up with something decent to say, ended up profiling the book, and scrabbled around trying to replenish myself. Bad books are draining.

I picked up Leanna Renee Hieber’s Strangely Beautiful as my reward for completing that daunting task.


Leanna is a dear friend of mine, and this book is actually a re-release of her first two novels, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker and The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker. I’ve long been a fan of Leanna’s work, having come aboard with Darker Still. Hot guys trapped in portraits and needing rescuing by daydreaming heroines? Yes, please!

Strangely Beautiful was an interesting read, like the X-Men, but with ghosts. I really like the Guard, especially Elijah. It wasn’t so much the story that got me as seeing the progression in Leanna’s writing. It’s clearly her voice, her signature level of detail (especially regarding dresses!), and her flow, but it’s a rare opportunity to get to go back and see where she started, and since I was having difficulty regaining my own voice, it was a tremendous comfort and help. Plus, the image of Hades/Death unhinging his jaw and vomiting pomegrante is both horrific and delightful.

Following that, I got the chance to read Leanna’s next Eterna Files book, Eterna and Omega, before its August 9th release!


Leanna gets the best covers. I read this book in three days and it only took me that long because I had to attend The Day Job. I even brought it with me to the gym. I wrote a review for Eterna and Omega for Criminal Element, so when that’s up, I’ll cross post it here.

If it wasn’t painfully obvious, I loved this book and I love this series. It needed more Lavinia, but that’s a personal issue and not one having to do with the book. The great thing about being a book reviewer is getting to read things before they come out. The bad thing about being a book reviewer is than having to wait until NEXT August for book three, which Leanna is still writing. Oh well.

So that’s it! Giant post, three good books, one book I deeply regret. On the slate for August is an ARC of Whispers Beyond the Veil, and my poor attempts to shuffle through my TBR.

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Whatcha Reading: May 2016

May was a bit of a wash. I read two really great books, most of a book that just didn’t do it for me, and got 15 pages into another before I quit due to overwhelming interior design. I’ve debating talking about the books I didn’t enjoy. I feel… guilty… when people rave and I find it just wasn’t for me. I also know that’s silly. Reading is as subjective as writing. So let’s start with the ones I loved.

WINK, POPPY, MIDNIGHT by April Tucholke


Occasionally, I wonder how I’ve acquired my peculiar and wonderful set of friends and I’m always baffled by April’s work. She’s such a vivid storyteller and everything she writes has a distinctly modern Gothic vibe to it. It’s like catnip to me. WINK, POPPY, MIDNIGHT is a short read, but damn did April pack in everything I’ve come to love from her work and then some.

Every story needs a hero.
Every story needs a villain.
Every story needs a secret.

Wink is the odd, mysterious neighbor girl, wild red hair and freckles. Poppy is the blond bully and the beautiful, manipulative high school queen bee. Midnight is the sweet, uncertain boy caught between them. Wink. Poppy. Midnight. Two girls. One boy. Three voices that burst onto the page in short, sharp, bewitching chapters, and spiral swiftly and inexorably toward something terrible or tricky or tremendous.

What really happened?
Someone knows.
Someone is lying.

I can’t wait to see what she does next. We have plans for a midnight tea party and séance in the future.

STRIKE by Delilah S. Dawson


I really enjoyed HIT, the precursor to STRIKE, and I was hoping reading a more action-based book would help me on my quest to write an action-based book. Though I didn’t enjoy it as much I did HIT, STRIKE had the same snarky teenage humor and it’s kinda gratifying to read a book set in places you frequent. Delilah and I live in the same town, and this book is based locally, so it was kinda cool.

As for the other two…

I don’t want to name names. I don’t really want these things to be reviews per say. The first book I was really excited about. It’s a retelling of an old pirate story, and while it started out fine, I found it extremely slow and unfortunately tropey. The multiple POVs felt unnecessary and detracted from the story, and the plot was extremely obvious. I made it 90% through, leaving two chapters unread. Why? Because I didn’t care enough to find out what happened. I read that far hoping it would pick up, but alas…

The last book wasn’t so much a story issue as a design issue. I’ve learned a lesson in that I need to look at the interior of books before I buy them. This book I’ve heard rave reviews over, and I was excited to pick it up. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life for those of us who’ve studied designed that over-designing ruins your life. This book is formatted to look like a journal, with sticky notes (printed, of course), different “handwriting,” medical logs, etc.

A LOT of money was sunk into its production.

Unfortunately, that leaves it basically unreadable for me. I don’t like “noise” when I’m trying to get into a story. I made it 15 pages before I developed a headache. It was just too overwhelming. I know some people love that, but it isn’t for me. I might check out the eBook and see if that’s a better solution for me, but sadly the physical copy is too overdone for me to focus.

Both of these books are in the donation pile.

So, what’s on the slate for June? I’ve finally start THE DARK DAYS CLUB by Alison Goodman. So many of my friends recommended this one, and I have to say so far it’s pretty good. I’m only 50 pages in, but I’m enjoying it so far. I’m very very slowly chipping away at the dreaded TBR pile.

What have you read this month?

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Whatcha Reading? April 2016

I surprised myself by still managing to read three books this month despite traveling. Philadelphia was absolutely amazing, and as I predicted last month, I stepped into the Mütter Museum and immediately teared up.

DR. MÜTTER’S MARVELS by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz


This book is amazing. I picked it up on a whim a year or so ago without really knowing what it was about. I expected a sort of biographical read about medicine and history, but what I got was an immersive exploration about not only Dr. Mütter’s life, but the lives of many of the professors and doctors at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

And yes, at the end, when Mütter meets his untimely death (hey, it’s not a spoiler considering he’s long dead at this point), I sobbed. It’s all so unfair.

Stepping into what he essentially bullied the College of Physicians of Philadelphia to construct to house his collection was an astonishing moment. Though it’s not the original building, the fact that I was looking at specimens and wax casts that have survived two hundred years was breathtaking. Yes, I assume some find them gross and disturbing, but I wanted nothing more than to sit and sketch all the skulls and figures and instruments.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit of a medical history fanatic. An enthusiast.

Wicked Ever After by Delilah S. Dawson


While on the plane, I began (and finished) the final book in Delilah S. Dawson’s Blud series. Wicked Ever After catches back up with Trish and Criminy, and includes a tale of love, loss, betrayal, learning to let go, and of course, really hot blood-drinking vampire magicians.

It’s a bit bittersweet. I met Delilah just before Wicked as They Come launched (in fact, I was the fire dancer at her launch party). Seeing the series come full-circle has been a neat experience. This one is eBook only, and I miss not having one for my shelf, but I did enjoy the ride.

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig


Have I mentioned how much I love the Miriam Black series?

Another great, fast-paced read. I’m attempting to get more action-oriented books in my head in the hopes it’ll help me write action. I’m more of an atmosphere gal, so the fact that my WIP has three fight scenes in five chapters is throwing me a bit.

But a challenge is good, right?

Miriam kicks ass and takes names. I love the back and forth, past and present storytelling aspect of this book. I love how everything ties together. I did have a moment of confusion because it’s been a while since I’ve read Blackbirds, but I caught up quickly enough. Good stuff, this one. Unfortunately, I have no idea when The Thunderbird is coming out, which I believe is the last book.


I’m starting May with Delilah S. Dawson’s Strike (the sequel to Hit) and an absolute determination to carve through my TBR before buying more books. Which, of course, is exactly what I did in Philly. But I only bought one.

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Whatcha Reading? March 2016

Truth be told, I didn’t read as much as I wanted to this month. Work kept from words (but money means I can buy more books!), but I did enjoy what I devoured.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for Irene

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.

I’ve had this book for a while (and it’s sequel I bought the day it came out), but I finally gave in and read this on the insistence of a friend. I’m not usually one for fantasy, but parallel words, working magic, smugglers and thieves? Yes, please.

I loved it. Couldn’t put it down. I was lucky enough to meet Victoria a couple months ago at a book event, and she’s pretty freaking awesome as a person in addition to boasting one of the finest talents for world-building, voice, and basically everything. She’s got the Word Magic.

One of my favorite literary things is the combination of magic and science. This is more in the realm of physics than my medical tendancies dictate, but I love that the parallel worlds make sense within their own existence and within the connections to each other.

So it should come as no surprise to you that the next book I read was the next in the series.

Barnes and Noble

A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows Final

Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.

In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games—an extravagant international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries—a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—meaning that another London must fall.

Can we talk about the cover art for a minute? I love them. So graphic, so simplistic, so impactful.

This round I loved how detailed Red London (and the world outside it) is. I loved the inclusion of other cultures, the different dynamics in the magic system (in use and in belief), and again–couldn’t put it down.

I texted said friend the day I finished it, equally elated, pissed, and a shade jealous. It’s going to be a long year until book 3, but damn, am I looking forward to it.

Barnes and Noble

Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig


I read the first Miriam Black book, Blackbirds, a year or two ago, and I absolutely loved it. I generally don’t go for first-person present, but Wendig is fast-paced, hard-hitting, and Miriam is a straight up badass chick.

Occasionally, I don’t know why it takes me SO LONG to continue in a series I enjoy. Also, more fucking gorgeous cover art. Damn. I picked up books 2 and 3 (The Cormorant) on sale.

Miriam is trying. Really, she is.

But this whole “settling down thing” that Louis has going for her just isn’t working out. She lives on Long Beach Island all year around. Her home is a run-down double-wide trailer. She works at a grocery store as a check-out girl. And her relationship with Louis–who’s on the road half the time in his truck–is subject to the piss and vinegar Miriam brings to everything she does.

It just isn’t going well. Still, she’s keeping her psychic ability–to see when and how someone is going to die just by touching them–in check. But even that feels wrong somehow. Like she’s keeping a tornado stoppered up in a tiny bottle.

Then comes one bad day that turns it all on her ear.

I had a moment of sympathy when this one started with Miriam as a checkstand clerk. Boy, do I know THAT life. And I’ve dreamed many a day (and night) of doing exactly what Miriam does: saying Fuck You and walking away.

But Miriam has bigger fish to fry when she stumbles into the future victim of a serial killer, and well… Miriam just has to change fate. Again.

I’m eager to see where this series goes. I already have the next book, and I’m eager to get started.

Barnes and Noble

I ended March by picking up Doctor Mutter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz. I wanted a change of pace from fiction, and I’m paying a visit to the Mutter Museum in mid-April, so I wanted to properly fangirl. If you’ve been here for any amount of time, you know I’m obsessed with medical history, specifically late 1700 to early 1900. Those Victorians, I tell you what.

I’m really, really enjoying it. In fact, I might just be a little in love with Thomas Dent Mutter.

Between The Grand Philadelphia Adventure and The Day Job, I’m not sure how much I’ll manage in April, but I’m so looking forward to vacation and unwinding.

What did you read this month?

Until next time,



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