Big Problems For GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE–A Review

Hi there! I’m so excited to share a review for a newly published contemporary YA romance from Paula Stokes. GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE s a bittersweet contemporary YA adventure/romance that deals with PTSD, OCD, and general anxiety in a teen girl who’s survived some pretty tragic moments.

Girl Against the UniverseAbout the book:
Maguire is bad luck.

No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when Maguire is around. Like that time the rollercoaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time the house next door caught on fire. Or that time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash—and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch.

It’s safest for Maguire to hide out in her room, where she can cause less damage and avoid meeting new people who she could hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star. Jordy is confident, talented, and lucky, and he’s convinced he can help Maguire break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for Jordy is to stay away. But it turns out staying away is harder than she thought.

From author Paula Stokes comes a funny and poignant novel about accepting the past, embracing the future, and learning to make your own luck.

My Review:
Maguire was eleven when the car she rode in went off a mountainside and her father, uncle and brother were all killed. She was twelve when she rode a rollercoaster that went off the track, seriously injuring all 19 other passengers beside herself. She was thirteen when she went to a slumber party where every other guest ended up with gut-clenching illness. And six weeks ago, her abandoned candle burned down the neighbors’ house. Maguire believes that she’s Really Bad Luck, and she has a notebook filled with instances and coincidences that back up this claim.

Now sixteen and living in her third house in the past four years, preparing to enter her second high school, Maguire wishes she could just be home-schooled. She doesn’t want to make any friends, and potentially be responsible for any of them getting hurt, or worse.  Worried about Maguire, her mother insists that she attend therapy, and this is where the book opens, in a therapy session between Maguire and Dr. Leed. When the hour is up, Maguire notices the tall, attractive boy who enters the office in her stead. This boy, Jordy, reaches out to prickly, unapproachable Maguire as part of his own “homework” for therapy. And, they sort of hit it off. Maguire learns that Jory is semi-famous, but none of that seems to matter and Jordy appreciates that.

Inspired by Jordy, and knowing that she needs to get over her many phobias if she’s going to fly to Ireland with her mother for a five year memorial for her father, uncle and brother, Maguire actually begins to engage in her therapy. She’s terrified of riding in cars with people, using public transit, being out in public, going to parties, and has terrors imagining a bus ride, let alone a trans-Atlantic flight. So, with Dr. Leed’s help, Maguire sets her own list of “homework” so that she can reclaim her life and defeat the sinister powers of the Universe that have ripped so much from her.

Along the way, Maguire joins her high school tennis team, where she makes real friends for the first time in years. She also connects with Jordy, who is happy to help Maguire in any way he can–even if it means crossing his parents. See, Jordy IS a big deal; he’s a tennis wunderkind all set to go pro, if he can finish high school and stand up against his parent’s plans for college. And, maybe, he and Maguire may become more than friends…

This is a bittersweet read, because Maguire is a kid trapped by tragedy. She has a loving mother, step-father and new step siblings, but she dwells in the past. She’s terrified of her own mystique:  believing that she’s cursed. By really engaging with her therapy, and investigating the truth of her situation, Maguire learns to overcome her anxiety, by reasonable measured steps and slowly escalating “risk.” It was an affirming story, that realistically demonstrated how a kid struggling with several mental issues could overcome her fears by challenging herself in safe ways. I really liked that there weren’t a ton of catty gals, or hecklers. I liked that Jordy was a stand-up guy, and that he never gave up on Maguire, even when she did hurt him, succumbing to her fears when he needed her most. Maguire’s self-discovery wasn’t all forward motion, which was also reasonable. She had backward steps and tough choices. She cried, and she healed, and she fretted, but she made it all happen. It takes courage to go on, and survivor’s guilt was also likely a big factor in Maguire’s self-isolation.

I really dug the whole arcane “luck” charms that Maguire built into a ritual, not for herself, but because she wanted to ensure the safety of those around her. It’s rather ironic that she never wanted herself to be safe; she expected her bad luck really only affected those around her. Jordy was a great guy, and I liked how down-to-Earth he was. He’s got a bright and shiny future all laid out, but agonizes about his people-pleasing tendencies, and the high likelihood of failing to set proper boundaries. These were reasonable issues for an athlete of his caliber, and his pathway through therapy was also interesting.

For a teen romance, this was really tame with only a few kisses, some dithering regarding embarking on an official relationship v. secretly dating. Those issues held real relevance for Jordy, as approached legal adulthood and struggled to assert his autonomy over that of his parents’ wishes. In total, the book was a clean read with plenty of morbid reminiscences and a healthy portrayal of mild mental illness, teen relationships, and healing.

I’d wish Maguire luck, but I think she’s learned that she makes her own.

Interested? You can find GIRL AGAINST THE UNIVERSE on Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Book Depository, and IndieBound.

About the Author:
Paula Stokes is half writer, half RN, and totally thrilled to be part of the world of YA literature. She started out writing historical fiction under a pen name and is now branching out into other YA genres.

When she’s not working (rare), she’s kayaking, hiking, reading, or seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She’s petted tigers, snuggled snakes, snorkeled with stingrays, and once enjoyed the suction-cuppy feel of a baby elephant’s trunk as it ate peanuts from her palm. Her future goals include diving with Great White sharks, learning Krav Maga, and writing a whole slew of novels, not necessarily in that order.

You can catch up with Paula on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Getting Healthy UNDER MY SKIN–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA romance from Laura Diamond. UNDER MY SKIN brings together two teens who are survivors of loss–a heart transplant recipient and the twin sister of the heart donor. It’s interesting, but has flaws.

Under My SkinAbout the book:

Bookish Brit Adam Gibson is one wonky heartbeat away from a fatal arrhythmia. But staying alive requires Adam to become keenly focused on both his pulse and the many different daily medications he must take in exactly the right dosages. Adam’s torn between wanting to live and knowing that someone else must die in order for him to do so. He needs a new heart.

The pressure is getting to him. Adam stops talking to his friends back home, refuses to meet kids at his new school, and shuts his parents out entirely. His days are spent wondering if can cope with having a dead man’s heart beating inside his chest, or if he should surrender to the thoughts of suicide swirling around in his head.

And then a donor is found…

Outspoken artist Darby Fox rarely lets anything stand in her way of achieving her goals . Whether it’s painting, ignoring her homework (dyslexia makes a mess out of words anyway), kissing a hot boy she doesn’t even know, or taking the head cheerleader down a peg , no one has ever accused Darby of being a shy. She also happens to be the twin sister to a perfect brother with good looks, good grades, manners, and the approval of their parents – something Darby has never had.

Darby’s always had bad timing . She picks the worst time to argue with her brother Daniel. In a car with bald tires, on an icy road in the freezing cold, the unthinkable happens. In a split-second, everything changes forever.

My Review:

3 Stars for this contemporary YA romance.

Adam is a 16 y/o Londoner living in New York. His family had relocated to the US because Adam has an unspecified heart condition that is worsening to the point that he’s too sick in general, but not sick enough to be prioritized on the heart transplant list. He lives in some upstate NY town that has a really great heart transplant team…wherever that is. Adam is severely conflicted about his condition. He sees the struggles his parents are enduring, and hates witnessing their suffering on his behalf. As his heart function precipitously declines and he’s hospitalized, he has no faith that he’ll receive a donor heart in time, and wonders if he even deserves to get one. He’s just a kid, and has no outstanding qualities. His manipulative counselor, Dr. Shaw, believes Adam is depressed, and strongly hints that he’s suicidal. It’s borderline abusive, and I had serious problems with Dr. Shaw’s ethics and actions throughout the book.

Daniel and Darby Fox are fraternal twins. While Darby is a talented artist, she struggles with school due to severe dyslexia. She’s also an impulse free spirit. Daniel is a stellar student and champion athlete. Darby feels their parents favor Daniel in everything, though she dearly loves Daniel. He’s a great guy. The blurb already tells readers that Daniel dies and Adam gets his heart. It’s really sad. I agree.

Adam and Darby meet in the hospital and hit it off. Darby was severely injured in the car wreck that killed Daniel. Adam is currently recovering from his transplant. Neither really wants to discuss their medical issues–Adam is still conflicted, and not sure how to handle the physical issues he’s now experiencing. A racing heart was a sign of trouble–now he’s being tested with all sorts of exercise, and he’s getting panic attacks. Dr. Shaw’s manipulating him, and her new medications for his depression and anxiety are freaking him out. He can’t discuss his fears with his parents, as they think he’s as suicidal and Dr. Shaw says. Darby is a breath of fresh air, but Dr. Shaw does some completely unethical things that keep them apart.

I think I’d have liked this story a whole lot more without Dr. Shaw. As a person who has worked in the medical field a long time, I understand that the machinations in this book would be enough to get a physician severely reprimanded, if not have her license disciplined or revoked. It created a whole lot of unnecessary drama, in a story that was already rife with conflict and complications.

Both Darby and Adam are riddled with survivor’s guilt. They have long-term medical issues. They have parental issues. They have survived serious illness and injury. That’s a lot. Then, they meet a person who might make all their suffering fade, just a bit. And–instead of fostering connection and openness–the psychiatrist breaks anonymity, reveals her own inner traumas to teens, and prescribes medications that the patient has trouble taking. Oh, and she’s really, really antagonistic. I’ve been in therapy sessions. Never has the psychiatrist acted so rashly, brashly and foolishly as this caricature. I understand the author is a psychiatrist; if she was presented a case file of Dr. Shaw I wonder if she’d recommend her be sanctioned. I sure would, if she treated my son like Adam was treated.

The end is tied up too neatly. The only upside I found was Adam got a new therapist, and his parents were made to understand some small degree of the fallacies they’d been fed by Dr. Shaw. It seems like Darby and Adam will be getting along, perhaps having some romance. I wished I had had more of that story, and less of the freaky shrink completely messing Adam around.

Interested? You can find UNDER MY SKIN on Goodreads, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

About the Author:

Laura Diamond is a board certified psychiatrist currently specializing in emergency psychiatry. She is also an author of all things young adult—both contemporary and paranormal. An avid fan of sci-fi, fantasy, and anything magical, she thrives on quirk, her lucid dreams, and coffee. When she’s not working or writing, she can be found sniffing books and drinking a latte at the bookstore or at home pondering renovations on her 225 year old fixer upper, all while obeying her feline overlords, of course.

You can find Laura on her website, Goodreads, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Stuck in the Middle–HIATUS–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a M/M/M menage contemporary romance from LA Witt. HIATUS is a bittersweet, but realistic, read featuring a married couple who is divorcing and their third–who tries to keep them together.

HiatusAbout the book:
Three’s a disaster when things come unraveled.
Rock star Nate Keller is on top of the world, but his headlining tour has one drawback. It keeps him away from his boyfriends, Theo and Cameron, for weeks at a time. Yet after four-and-a-half years—and a lot of hard work—the trio is still going strong.

But then Cam comes to visit with devastating news. After seventeen years together, he and Theo have agreed to a trial separation. Nate tries desperately to fix his lovers’ broken relationship, but there’s only so much he can do from the road.

At home, Cam tries to carry on, but feels like his whole life is spiraling out of control. Theo struggles to cope with the split as his depression worsens. They’re both spinning their wheels, quickly losing hope they can keep it together—and keep the man they both still love.

Desperate, Nate drops everything in a last-ditch attempt to pull their trio back together before they hit rock bottom. Except their love could already be shattered beyond repair.

Warning: Contains two men who must face how broken they are before they can fix their failing marriage, and the man who loves them both—but doesn’t know how to save them.

My Review:
This is a bittersweet menage M/M/M story that explores a disintegrating marriage, and the reasons behind the collapse. It has a happy ending.

3.5 stars.
Cam and Theo are a married couple. They’ve been together 17 years–since college–and just over four years ago met Nate, singer in an up-and-coming band. They were up for some fun, and it worked so well, that Nate joined them, permanently.

Well…the book opens with Nate ecstatic for one of his rendezvous nights on the road with his sexy boyfriends, only to find Cam waiting for him. Because Theo is moving out of their house back in LA. Nate’s blindsided and hurt, and Cam’s a mess. They make love, but it’s bittersweet.

Rinse and repeat that a few times. Sometimes Theo comes, sometimes Cam comes, see–while they can’t live together, neither wants to lose Nate. It’s a bad situation.

What Nate learns, as he strives to get his men back together is that Theo’s been suffering depression for a long time. And, Cam’s been struggling with borderline-OCD and panic attacks for a long time, and neither noticed the other’s problems because they were too wrapped in their own mental illness.

There is a lot of bitter in this book. There are also points of extreme sweetness. As a person who’s suffered depression, I felt it was more bitter than sweet. As a person who’s weathered rough patches in a long marriage, it was raw to experience echoes of similar distance in the characters on the page.

It ends with a very reasonable and relatable and realistic reunion. That was really satisfying, but I still had a LOT of angst–some on the page, some of my own baggage–to heft before I got to the good parts. Those good parts coming at the very end of the book.

Poly romances are often hard to relate to, but it’s not hard to relate to the unraveling of love. Nate was such a dear, really stoking the fires to get Cam and Theo to reconcile, but his efforts were in the wrong place, because only the people breaking up can do the making up–as Theo and Cam realized.

The mental illness issues were carefully described, and felt very real–especially the depression as I have first-hand experience with that. I liked how the solution was never complacent, not: “we’ll get over it.” Once Cam and Theo claimed their issues, they got productive help managing their emotional state. Part of their delay seeking counseling was fear that any marriage counselors would tell them they needed to cut Nate loose. I could relate with that fear, as poly relationships are not given the same weight as marriage, and that prejudice proved a hindrance to their health. Still, there were several lights at the end of the tunnel, and the end proved to be both happy and sexy.

In all, it worked for me. I just wished it had been a little more upbeat.

Interested? You can find HIATUS on Goodreads, Samhain Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Lauren Gallagher is an abnormal romance writer who has recently been exiled from the glittering utopia of Omaha, Nebraska, to an undisclosed location in South America. Along with her husband, a harem of concubines, and a phosphorescent porcupine, she remains, as always, in hiding from the Polynesian Mafia. For the moment, she seems to have eluded her nemesis, M/M romance author L.A. Witt, but figures L.A. will eventually become bored with the wilds of Spain and come looking for her. And when that time comes, Lauren will be ready. Assuming L.A. doesn’t have her hands full keeping track of Lori A. Witt and Ann Gallagher, which she probably will.

Visit her website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!

Love After Loss, A PATCHWORK PARADISE–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new contemporary M/M romance from Indra Vaughn. PATCHWORK PARADISE is a friends-to-lovers story about a man who survives the death of his love–and find love again in ways he never expected.

Patchwork ParadiseAbout the book:
Oliver and Samuel’s relationship is fairy-tale perfect. They share a gorgeous house in Antwerp, go out with their friends every weekend, and count down the days to their dream wedding. But their happy ending is shattered one late night, and just like that, Ollie is left bereft and alone.

The months that follow are long and dark, but slowly Ollie emerges from his grief. He even braves the waters of online dating, though deep down he doesn’t believe he can find that connection again. He doesn’t think to look for love right in front of him: his bisexual friend Thomas, the gentle giant with a kind heart and sad eyes who’s wanted him all along.

When Thomas suddenly discovers he has a son who needs him, he’s ill prepared. Ollie opens up his house—Sam’s house—and lets them in. Ollie doesn’t know what scares him more: the responsibility of caring for a baby, or the way Thomas is steadily winning his heart. It will take all the courage he has to discover whether or not fairy tales can happen for real.

My Review:
Ollie and Sam are childhood friends and have been boyfriends for a decade–their whole adult lives. They live together in a house Sam inherited from his grandmother, and look forward to their wedding in a month. Then Sam is killed by a mugger and Ollie’s life dives into the deep, dark, depression end. We really get a sense of Ollie’s loss, as he struggles to get out of bed, exist alone, walk through the house where he and Sam planned their lives out. It’s truly heart-wrenching.

Ollie and Sam’s mutual friends try to get Ollie moving on. Thomas, in particular, isn’t happy that Cleo is pushing Ollie to date again–even six months after Sam was laid to rest. Ollie isn’t sure what the subtext of that frustration is, but he’s also not sure that he should be dating again. He’d thought Sam was his one true love, and even making a connection with another man leaves him weeping. Thing is, Ollie never did see the way Thomas looked at him–as someone he always wanted to date. They’ve been friends for five years, and Thomas has dated more men–and women–than Ollie can count. Just when Ollie has the courage to talk with Thomas about their misunderstanding, Thomas decides to take off for a six-month tour around Europe. He and Ollie maintain constant contact via the phone, but things get messy when Thomas finds a companion. And when that seems to fizzle, well, there’s another complication–in the form of Thomas’ unexpected newborn son, Milo.

Wow.

Thomas is a wreck, and Milo’s mom is a wreck, but neither of them want anything much to do with the other despite their unplanned child. That said, Milo’s mom is experiencing post-partum depression and needs Thomas to care for Milo–enter Ollie to the rescue. Of sorts. He’s got a big empty house, and his mother’s able to child-sit. That said, Ollie’s charmed by the little screamer, and having both Thomas and Milo under his roof allows him to re-envision his life. Sam had never wanted children, and Ollie thought he was comfortable with that. Helping Thomas care for Milo gives Ollie a glimpse of parenthood he’d never had–and he discovers he truly wants it. There are some money considerations, not the least of which is Sam’s parents who want Sam’s house to be sold, and it’s one issue too many for Ollie and Thomas to overcome, perhaps. These guys have known each other for years, might could love one another, share a house and child-care duty–and yet have NEVER been on a date together. So, yeah, everything backwards. The sexual tension is really high, and the slow burn pulls us through Ollie’s despair and depression, and Thomas’ anxiety, giving a hopefulness to the story that I really needed.

Also, Ollie is a scream as a pseudo-daddy. I definitely enjoyed his novice caregiving perspective, and how willing he was to accept both Thomas and Milo into his life. Ollie’s such a sweet soul, and his grief is so acutely rendered that I sank right into it. I also loved the little insights I gleaned of Belgium, which was a unique setting for me as a reader. Thomas is a good man, and he never pressured Ollie to move on, or to love him, despite his own intense feelings for Ollie. Neither man wants to ruin their friendship, and the tentative steps they make toward becoming lovers are tender and well-considered.

Interested? You can find PATCHWORK PARADISE on Goodreads, Riptide Publishing, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and AllRomance. I received a review copy of this book via NetGalley.

About the Author:

After living in Michigan, USA for seven wonderful years, Indra Vaughn returned back to her Belgian roots. There she will continue to consume herbal tea, do yoga wherever the mat fits, and devour books while single parenting a little boy and working as a nurse.

The stories of boys and their unrequited love will no doubt keep finding their way onto the page–and hopefully into readers hands–even if it takes a little more time.

And if she gleefully posts pictures of snow-free streets in winter, you’ll have to forgive her. Those Michigan blizzards won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

You can catch up with Indra on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in  and keep reading my friends!

Off the Banned Book List: PERSEPOLIS–A Review

Hi there! As part of my Reading Resolutions for 2016, I made a vow to read books that continue to make the ALA Banned Book List. I’ve picked up a couple already, and had a chance to complete the graphic biography (which is a biography that is illustrated like a comic, or graphic novel) PERSEPOLIS: Story of a Childhood from Marjane Satrapi.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis, #1-2)About the book:
A New York Times Notable Book
A Time Magazine “Best Comix of the Year”
A San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times Best-seller

Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.

My Review:

I”m going to start this review with the end. I read the last page, closed the book, and burst into tears. There’s a reason I don’t read non-fiction or biography very often, and that’s because I read as an escape from the usual and difficult bits of life that often catch me raw. PERSEPOLIS is a biography, told in graphic “novel” format, illustrating roughly 6 years in the life of an Iranian girl from 1978-1984. This was a time of incredible upheaval in the populace and government of Iran, and marked by revolution, war and religious strife.

As it’s a biography, it tells Marjane’s particular story, growing up with socially active and successful parents, who had some direct ancestry to the shah who’d been deposed in the 1950s. Also, her grandfather served high in the government, before being exiled.

Marjane’s perspective is of a forthright and questioning child who doesn’t understand why her school is now for girls only. Why she must, suddenly due to the Islamic revolution, now wear a veil. Why she cannot possess Western clothing. Why her parents protest their government, and she cannot. Marjane is an only child, and she’s a bit precocious, but she’s also just plain curious and mystified about her world. She wants it to makes sense, and latches on to “heroes” of her environment, like her uncle who survived years as a political prisoner.

Thing is, is seems life didn’t make much sense for the adults in the period, as Satrapi continually relates. Her parents and their neighbors are often performing a public display of allegiance, and privately live as they would choose–even taping their curtains closed so spying eyes cannot bear witness to parties and card playing and alcohol consumption. Revolutionaries believed they would install a democratic government and instead they got a theologic-based government of religious leaders. The hypocrisy of which was made quite clear, when all that was required was for disgruntled men to grow a beard and claim power, in the eyes of Marjane’s grandmother.

I believe some of the most poignant passages illustrated Marjane and her peers talking about the revolution, the Iran-Iraq war and the human tollof all this upheaval. Young, primarily poor, boys being recruited to serve as cannon fodder–in exchange for the “key” to Heaven. The ban on travel for boys aged 13 and over so they could be assured of having soldiers in a war that could have ended, except it served the government’s purpose. The danger of having an outspoken girl in a repressive society. Marjane watches as more and more of her friends disappear, and experiences the terror of becoming a target of the morality police.

I do not know much of the internal politics of this region, and found the brief and tidy snippets of history from young Marjane to be relevant, if not entirely explanatory. Without question, the book is a fantastic look into a world, and history, that should be more widely known. Further, it’s unflinching in its presentation, and accessible to a wide range of readers because of the perspective and voice.

Regarding the “banned” label, the reasons cited for banning the book are as follows: gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint. Additional reasons: “politically, racially, and socially offensive,” “graphic depictions”.

I’ll be honest, none of those parts of the book bothered me. If American citizens are outraged that a foreign-born person is citing use of CIA-trained torture tactics, including whipping, mutilation, urinating on a prisoner, burning alive, and dismemberment, they ought to complain to the government for allowing such practices to become part of their “arsenal,” not the school for having the book on the shelf.

This book was on the reading list of my son in seventh grade. I live in a town that is ethnically and racially mixed, with a high percentage of college-educated residents, and some of the highest-graded schools in my state. It’s “liberal” and I’m proud to be a part of that vibrant community. Having read Persepolis for myself, I’m glad my son read it. I hope that it sparks the same skepticism that Marjane and her parents demonstrated regarding his own government. I think it’s an important book to read, especially now as we see more and more problems within the Middle East region. It humanizes the many thousands of people that live under a regime they perhaps do not agree with, and against which they resist in whatever manner is possible for them. I think it applies farther than Iran’s borders, in many respects.

For myself, living in the nation with the largest free-standing military int he world, I can only voice my pacifism through demonstration and political will. I’m proud to have that right, and will exercise it, even as my fellows shout out my voice for cries to war. Thanks Marjane, for sharing your struggle. It’s a chilling story, and should be distributed far and wide, IMHO.

Interested? You can find PERSEPOLIS on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local library system…perhaps. Remember this is a “banned” book, so you may have to request it. I find it interesting that the cover was censored in my library, and have it in my mind to ask why upon returning the book.

About the Author:

Marjane Satrapi (Persian: مرجان ساتراپی) is an Iranian-born French contemporary graphic novellist, illustrator, animated film director, and children’s book author. Apart from her native tongue Persian, she speaks English, Swedish, German, French and Italian.

Satrapi grew up in Tehran in a family which was involved with communist and socialist movements in Iran prior to the Iranian Revolution. She attended the Lycée Français there and witnessed, as a child, the growing suppression of civil liberties and the everyday-life consequences of Iranian politics, including the fall of the Shah, the early regime of Ruhollah Khomeini, and the first years of the Iran-Iraq War. She experienced an Iraqi air raid and Scud missile attacks on Tehran. According to Persepolis, one Scud hit the house next to hers, killing her friend and entire family.

Satrapi’s family are of distant Iranian Azeri ancestry and are descendants of Nasser al-Din Shah, Shah of Persia from 1848 until 1896. Satrapi said that “But you have to know the kings of the Qajar dynasty, they had hundreds of wives. They made thousands of kids. If you multiply these kids by generation you have, I don’t know, 10-15,000 princes [and princesses]. There’s nothing extremely special about that.” She added that due to this detail, most Iranian families would be, in the words of Simon Hattenstone of The Guardian, “blue blooded.”

She currently lives in France.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends!

Perfecting THE ART OF NOT BREATHING–A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a contemporary YA novel from Sarah Alexander. THE ART OF NOT BREATHING is a little bit romance, a lotta bit grief and healing, as the main character Elsie struggles with the disintegration of her family after the death of her twin brother.

The Art of Not BreathingAbout the book:
Since her twin brother, Eddie, drowned five years ago, sixteen-year-old Elsie Main has tried to remember what really happened that fateful day on the beach. One minute Eddie was there, and the next he was gone.

Seventeen-year-old Tay McKenzie is a cute and mysterious boy that Elsie meets in her favorite boathouse hangout. When Tay introduces Elsie to the world of freediving, she vows to find the answers she seeks at the bottom of the sea.

My Review:
This is a well-written novel about a family slowly eroding following tragedy. It is set in the Black Isle of Scotland.

Five years ago Elsie’s twin Eddie was swept out to sea while they played at the beach for their 11th birthday. His body was never recovered, and her family has never recovered.

Eddie was a smaller child, and though chronologically 11 years old, he was far smaller than Elsie and not able to be educated in the school system due to developmental delays that may have stemmed from gestational issues or a birthing accident. He was several developmental years behind his twin, and Elsie defended him ruthlessly. They have an elder brother Dillon who witnessed some of the events on the beach that fateful day, but neither he nor Elsie, nor their parents, speak of it. Ever.

We start out the book on the eve of Elsie’s 16th birthday, with the family preparing for their annual memorial visit to the seashore to pay respects to Eddie’s cross. It’s all very emotional, and bitter, what with Elsie feeling forlorn for the loss of her twin, and the loss of her own celebrations. What she rarely admits to anyone is that she “hears” Eddie within her, and she speaks to him often. She wants to know what happened on the day of his drowning, but no one will ever speak of it.

As Elsie makes her way through she suffers horrible bullying, depression, and the knowledge that what remains of her family is disintegrating. Dillon’s got a girlfriend, but there’s something very off about him lately; he’s growing scarily thin. Her father spends as much time at work, or traveling for work, as possible, and her mother is a functional alcoholic.

During the course of the book we learn that Elsie loves spending time near the water, as it helps her feel close to Eddie. Eddie was a boy who loved the shore, and the dolphins, and Elsie creates a haven for herself at an abandoned boating club–which is now being refurbished by Mick, his son Danny and nephew Tay. They want to run scuba tours and freediving classes. Elsie has been continually warned against going into the water, but her rebellious side allows her to be goaded into it–and there she experiences flashbacks of that fateful day.

Driven to determine the full truth of the horrors of Eddie’s final moments, she begins to train with bad-boy Tay, and eventually the mean and enigmatic Danny, so that she can make deep freedives into the inlet where Eddie drowned.

It’s a really fascinating look at the way loss changes the dynamics of a family. There are so many converging problems: her father’s anger and withdrawal, her mother’s depression, her brother’s eating disorder. Elsie, in pseudo middle child form, feels a deep need to piece everything together. The emotions run high, and it’s a thrilling experience for Elsie to have the interest of a boy–for the first time ever. All her training for freediving alters her appearance, and gives her a different mindset–she aches to achieve a final communion with Eddie, and that was really poignant, if rather troubling.

I really related to Elsie’s determination, and understood her seemingly flighty nature. No one has seemed to care about her in a very long time, so why should she bother? And yet, she finds the strength to do so. She’s not a very admirable character, in many ways, but I felt that her faults were those of circumstance. She feels as if she’s a pariah, and she’s often treated that way. Tay is the one guy who sees her, not the Twin Who Lived, and that’s a refreshing experience for a girl who mostly fades into the shadows.

In all, the book was interesting, and I found myself rapidly turning the pages as the drama became more and more intense. Expect some super dark moments, and a renewed life for a girl whose seemed to end when her twin died. The ending is definitely upbeat.

Interested? You can find THE ART OF NOT BREATHING on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Sarah Alexander grew up in London with dreams of exploring the world and writing stories. After spending several years wandering the globe and getting into all sorts of scrapes, she returned to London to complete a Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Birkbeck College in 2013. Previous jobs include: tomato picker, travel consultant, mental-health support worker and suitcase administrator. Now she works in publishing. Sarah lives in London with her husband and two chickens. THE ART OF NOT BREATHING is her first novel.

You can catch up with Sarah online on her website and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and keep reading my friends.

Reconnecting in the BLACK DUST–Excerpt and Giveaway!

BannerTemplate-9
Hi there! Today I’m sharing an excerpt, review, and giveaway for a new contemporary M/M romance from Lynn Charles. BLACK DUST is a reconnection romance between lovers who got separated by tragedy, and attempt to rebuild their relationship after fifteen years of separation.

Check out the excerpt and review and enter to win a $25 GC for Interlude Press or one of FIVE ebooks of BLACK DUST below.

Black Dust 900px COVER (web Tumblr)About the book:
Fifteen years after a tragic car crash claimed a friend’s life and permanently injures his then-boyfriend, Broadway musician Tobias Spence reconnects with his former love.

As Emmett and Tobias explore their renewed relationship, the two men face old hurts and the new challenges of a long-distance romance.

Will Tobias lose his second chance at love to the ghosts he can’t seem to put to rest?

How about a little taste?

“I can’t, Emmett. I—can’t go back.”
“Then we are clearly not ready for any sort of commitment.”
“Wait. You won’t agree to—to us—unless I come to Indiana?”
“I won’t,” Emmett said. “It’s all feeling a little one-sided to me, and I’m not okay with that.”
“You don’t understand.”
“I do understand, Toby. I was there for everything that makes you afraid of that place.”
“Yes. You were,” Toby said, taking Emmett’s hand in his. “But my concerns about going back have nothing to do with you.”
“Maybe they should have something to do with me.”
“That’s—” Toby pulled his hand away. “That’s not fair.”
“It really is,” Emmett said. He reached across the table for Toby’s hand again. “Please?” Toby took his hand and Emmett squeezed, holding on as if he might never let go. “We experienced a great tragedy together. And while Scotty’s parents lost their son, no one felt the things we felt. No one else woke up screaming and sweating when we heard the sounds of the crash in our sleep.”
“Emmett—”
“No one else knew the fear of maybe never walking again. No one else lost weight and a semester of school because he might get thrown in jail. No one else felt the things we felt together. That’s all ours. As much as you want to, you cannot take me out of the equation.”
“But, that’s just it, Em. I don’t want to feel those things again. I cannot walk back into that—that darkness.”
Emmett pulled their joined hands to his lips and kissed Toby’s knuckles. “You already have. You have been so enamored¬—you’ve practically spent this entire week making love to my scars. You’re there. And it’s not so dark anymore.”
“No, because you’re whole again. You’re not broken anymore.”
Emmett saw it, then. He saw in the way Toby had almost obsessed over the ridiculous tattoo and Emmett’s scars, as if begging for them to also bring him the powers that Derek had wished upon Emmett’s body those years ago. He saw it in Toby’s insistence that they start all over as if the accident never happened, as if the years of silence weren’t strung between them like a rope and plank bridge connecting two separate lands.
So he said it. To give it power. To make it a truth they shared—like their shared tragedy. “And you still are. Broken.”
Toby nodded, grasping at Emmett’s fingers like a lifeline. “I’m so—” He took a deep, shuddering breath. “I’m so exhausted making sure no one knows.”
“Oh, Toby.” All the more reason “trying again” was a bad idea. Unready to let go, Emmett kissed Toby’s fingers again. “Then come to my home,” Emmett offered, trite as it sounded in his own ears. “I’ve remodeled the master and made a party room in my basement for the kids.”
“You’ve never told me—”
“It’s beautiful, really. It’s on a couple of acres, and the back of the property is lined with a stream you can hear from the kitchen when the windows are open. It’s very peaceful. It sounds like you need some peace.”
“You deserve a beautiful life.”
“So let me share it with you. At least think about it?”
Toby nodded and began to clean up. “Will you still come see me in San Francisco after school’s out?”
“I don’t know. I’d really like an answer before I agree to see you again.”
“Okay. I’m sorry it’s not as easy as it should be.”
“I am too, Toby. Being with you was always so easy.”

My Review:

This is a realistically-told reconnection romance between two high school sweethearts who survived a car wreck that left them both broken, inside and out.

Toby and Emmett met in local community theater, when Emmett was a performer and Toby the accompanist. They dated long-distance for two years, as Toby had begun in college in New York. The night before Emmett’s senior prom Toby coasted through a stop sign in their rural Indiana locale, and the results were disastrous. Their car was broadsided at high speed. Another passenger, Emmett’s best friend Scotty, was killed instantly and Emmett suffered pelvic and leg fractures that had a painful recovery. Toby was barely injured physically, but his emotional landscape was shattered. As much as Toby stuck by Emmett, anger at his pain, loss of his friend, and his injury-dashed Broadway dreams made Emmett snarly as a wounded boar. The fallout was a fifteen year separation.

Toby never forgot his first love, but years of guilt caused him to never set down any roots. He traveled extensively, directing and coaching off-Broadway productions wherever he could sell his services. Emmett had a great many number of wild years, never finding a man he would settle with for long. He’s been stable for the last several years, however, and longing connection. Encouraged by his best friend, Emmett calls Toby to set up a meeting so he can gain some closure on their tragic love story–only to have the flame rekindled.

Over the next year, Emmett and Toby go back-and-forth across the country to meet and come to terms with who they are, who they want to be, and if that includes a “together” for them. It is a story that encompasses a lifetime of missed opportunity, and a whole lot of healing. These guys have really been through some bad times, and they can’t trust each other enough to not get hurt–or do the hurting. I liked that there was no easy road here. They each have hard truths to face and accept. I found it fascinating, the inclusion of the musical soundtrack of their lives, how they couldn’t build it alone, but could together. How Emmett’s forgiveness and understanding, without the platitudes, was so healing for Toby.

Also, their long-distance love affair was on-again and off-again and back on- again. There was sufficient tension to keep it real, and interesting. The secondary characters, where they existed, were fun and engaging. And, who doesn’t love a grand gesture-ending with an original score that was worthy of (at least) off-Broadway.

Interested? You can find BLACK DUST on Goodreads, Interlude Press, Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, AllRomance, Smashwords, Book Depository, and Indiebound.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for a chance to win a $25 GC to Interlude Press or one of FIVE copies of BLACK DUST.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
Lynn Charles earned her degree in music education and for many years performed and directed choral music. When she’s not writing, she can be found strolling through local farmers markets near her home in Central Ohio in search of ingredients for new recipes. Her novel Chef’s Table was published in 2014 by Interlude Press.

You can find Lynn online on her website, Facebook, twitter, and Pinterest.
pride