Super Sequel NOT YOUR VILLAIN–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new YA LGBTQ-friendly superhero novel from CB Lee. NOT YOUR VILLAIN is the second book in her Sidekick Squad series and is a fantastic follow-up to NOT YOUR SIDEKICK. Both books are set in the US, a little over a century into the future, when superheros and villains take center-stage in the world…and Bells is a master of his future.

Check out the excerpt and be sure to enter the $25 GC and book giveaway below!

About the book:
Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants and, if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges.

Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain.

How about a little taste?

Captain Orion walks into view, dragging a machine on a cart behind her. “I don’t like that smirk he’s giving you. Shame we couldn’t get the audio on that feed to work. Step aside, let me get a look at him.”

Bells has only seen Orion in holovids and during that one, frenzied encounter at Abby’s house. It’s startling how different she looks now from the shiny, polished hero who graced comic book covers. Her hair is tied in a messy ponytail; her bangs fall limp across her forehead. She’s wearing her usual blue-and-white supersuit, but Bells has never seen it this dirty or in such a state of disrepair; there’s a patch ripped in the leggings, and her knee is poking out. Orion’s cape trails behind her; the edge is frayed and riddled with dirt. The cart she dragged in rolls onto it, causing her to stumble. Orion yanks her cape free of the cart, straightens up, and glares at Bells, as if she’s daring him to laugh.

Bells recognizes the machinery sitting on the cart; it’s one they used at the training center to measure the power levels of meta-humans.

He remembers the last time he was tested. All the other students had taken care not to use their powers all day so they could get an “at rest” rating and be sure that the League could see their full potential. He kept his Barry shift on all day, so that by the time he was measured, he’d be so tired out he’d get a low rating.

What does Orion want with me?

The former hero looks down her nose at Bells. “Well. The famous, talented Chameleon. The League was all about you. The next me, perhaps. Or maybe that was just what they were filling your head with. Did they promise you glory? Greatness?”

“Free lunch,” Bells says. “And travel. To the training center for three summers. Got to see a lot of places. I liked Baja, but the last one was pretty cool. The North is awfully pretty. Lots of trees. Huge, like giants. And last year I got to go to the beach all the time, so—win.”

“I don’t think you understand the gravity of your situation, Barry.” Orion grins like a feral cat. “I’ve got your file right here.”

Orion flips through the thick sheaf of papers. Bells takes a deep breath when he spots the word Broussard, followed by a photo of the restaurant and even a picture of him and Simon as kids. The file must have been important for Orion to print them on actual paper. Or maybe Orion can’t connect to the Net anymore.

How long has she been on the lam? What was she proposing to Stone? The League obviously doesn’t know where she is, since they still claimed she was in Corrections.

Even if she doesn’t have the League behind her, she’s still dangerous, especially if she knows who he really is.

My Review:
Bells has grown up in Andover, a smallish town in the Nevada desert, several hundred miles from what remained of Los Angeles, after the Disasters and World War III are just stories in history books. Nearly 100 years ago, when humanity was still fighting to survive, there was a series of large solar flares that caused cataclysmic events, and generated the first generation of meta-humans, humans with super powers, of any type.

Bells is a black transboy with the power to alter his appearance, and that of anyone or anything he touches. He’s dealing with the meta-human stuff pretty well for a kid whose parents run a black market agribusiness. Oh, and who also has a long-time crush on his best friend Emma. In the beginning he keeps his identity as “Chameleon” one of the newly inducted member of the Heroes League of Heroes. Unfortunately, Jess, who has an undetected super power recognizes that Bells has been made a pawn in the game of heroes vs. villains. Jess noticed that the “villains” that Chameleon was impersonating on a series of “training missions” all had characteristics of her good pal, Bells, and Jess reveals the bigger plot that surrounds a group of missing villains, and Captain Orion, leader of the Heroes League.

This story overlaps NOT YOUR SIDEKICK and picks up with Jess, Bells, and their other pals trying to rescue Jess’ girlfriend Abby’s parents from captivity. Abby has a super power, but she’s been given a serum by Captain Orion to negate her mechanopath abilities.

Just as Bells is getting a handle on his powers and his feelings for Emma, life gets in the way. Ema finds her own boyfriend, and Chameleon’s activity in rescuing Abby’s mom leads to him being listed as Public Enemy ! by the Heroes League. That said, he finds some comfort in pals that didn’t have strong enough powers to make it into the League–and his mission to unmask the REAL villains of this world (think grown-ups in the government) brings some results. To a degree. If nothing else, Jess’ superhero parents take their mission seriously, and superheroes and villains are uniting to defeat the actual bad guys and bring justice to those who need it.

I love the multicultural cast, and the world is beautifully rendered. All to locales jump off the page, and Bells’ plight, in life, love and activity, is a sympathetic one. I love his sweetness, and his commitment to do the right thing even when it’s really, really difficult. It seems as if Bells’ perserverance wins him both the respect and validation he sought when he hungered to be a hero, and I was happy for that. I wonder who will lead us to eventual victory in book three. It feels like Jess’ sister Claudia is a strong candidate. This is an excellent book series for teens who are identified, or questioning, in the LGBT spectrum, as the relationships are all affirming and fluid. Bells is trans, Jess is bi, but seriously dating a girl, Emma has two moms, and there are many other examples of queer life, too. This world posits that nothing is unusual about those connections, and that felt pretty super, too.

Interested? You can find NOT YOUR VILLAIN on Goodreads, Interlude Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, Smashwords, Book Depository, and Indiebound.

****GIVEAWAY****

Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 GC to Interlude Press, or one of FIVE e-books of NOT YOUR VILLAIN.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
C.B. Lee is a bisexual writer, rock climber, and pinniped enthusiast from Southern California. A first-generation Asian American, she is passionate about working in communities of color and empowering youth to be inspired to write characters and stories of their own. Lee’s debut novel Seven Tears at High Tide was published by Duet Books in 2015 and named a finalist in the Bisexual Books Awards. This summer, C.B. was named to Lambda Literary’s Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices.

You can find C B online on her website, Goodreads, Facebook, twitter and Instagram.

Cephalopod Coffeehouse Sept 2017: THE LIST, A Review

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

This month I’m featuring a post-apocalyptic YA adventure from Patricia Forde. THE LIST is a newly-republished novel, originally called THE WORDSMITH. I’ve only read this version, but I liked it bunches.

About the book:
In the city of Ark, speech is constrained to five hundred sanctioned words. Speak outside the approved lexicon and face banishment. The exceptions are the Wordsmith and his apprentice Letta, the keepers and archivists of all language in their post-apocalyptic, neo-medieval world.

On the death of her master, Letta is suddenly promoted to Wordsmith, charged with collecting and saving words. But when she uncovers a sinister plan to suppress language and rob Ark’s citizens of their power of speech, she realizes that it’s up to her to save not only words, but culture itself.

My Review:
Letta is the teenaged apprentice wordsmith of Ark, a community of survivors on post-apocalytic Earth. The ice caps melted and the seas rose and John Noa built a fortified town where some of humanity would survive. Letta’s parents, residents of Ark, disappeared when she was a small child, bound to search for more survivors. Letta was raised by the wordsmith, Benjamin, to treasure words, though the people of Arc are only given license to use the 500 words on their List as their language.

Benjamin isn’t pleased when he’s told to cut the List to 300 words, and Letta isn’t any happier. She’s in love with language, and words are her trade. She relishes knowing more words than most of Ark’s residents, and does her duty to keep making List words for the school children and apprentices of Ark when Benjamin goes on an extended journey.

John Noa’s theory that deceitful words of untrustworthy politicians destroyed the world has warped his mind, and he wants language eradicated and man to return to that of beasts, is pretty out there. Benjamin fought against him, and lost, which Letta discovers before it’s too late. She meets Marlo, a “Desecrator” or person who creates are or music and lives in the banished forest outside of Ark. Letta helps him recover from an attack by the Ark policing agents, and his family helps her track down the fate of Benjamin, and others who’d gotten in John Noa’s way.

This is an adventure that’s filled with intrigue and peril as Letta endeavors to find truth that’s been well hidden in ignorance. Her worldview is opened by her experiences with the Desecrators, and in witnessing the callousness of John Noa’s agents. They banish the old and infirm as well as the young. Their idyllic world is a shell game, and Letta’s blinders have been removed. She does her best to save the day, but it’s not over when it’s over. Letta, Marlo and the Desecrators need to find a way to help their fellow humans find a new direction, and it’ll take another book to get us there. Really interesting look at a totalitarian regime, and a censored society, from a teen’s point of view, and the plot kept moving along nicely as Letta made truth her mission.

Looking forward to the next adventure on this journey.

Interested? You can find THE LIST on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. You can also likely find it in your local library–may be cross-listed as The Wordsmith. I read a review copy via NetGalley.

Thanks for popping in and be sure to visit my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers as they share reviews of their fave books for this month.


Cephalopod Coffeehouse July 2017–WASTE OF SPACE-A Review

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

So this month I’m sharing a book that surprised me greatly, in the very, very, end. WASTE OF SPACE by Gina Damico is a book I picked up and put down half a dozen times, but I’m glad I didn’t give up.

About the book:
Cram ten hormonal teens into a spaceship and blast off: that’s the premise for the ill-conceived reality show Waste of Space. The kids who are cast know everything about drama—and nothing about the fact that the production is fake. Hidden in a desert warehouse, their spaceship replica is equipped with state-of-the-art special effects dreamed up by the scientists partnering with the shady cable network airing the show.

And, it’s a hit!

Millions of viewers are transfixed. But then, suddenly, all communication is severed. Trapped and paranoid, the kids must figure out what to do when this reality show loses its grip on reality.

 

My Review:
This book is a wild ride, and not because the characters are jettisoned into space. Far from it. It’s a satirical look at “reality TV” giving the complete lowdown from the able assistance of a low-level PA who got fired and handed enormous amounts of raw footage of the Waste of Space TV show produced by DV8 Studios.

The premise is this: DV8 wants to make a show about regular kids on a space station, but that’s unrealistic, and expensive, so they partner with NASAW–a shadowy conglomerate whose scientists know lots about space and time–to build a fake space station (complete with IKEA furnishings) that can house ten teens for two months. Along the way, DV8 management bullies and coerces everyone to insist that this show is taking place in space.

Kids line up in malls hoping to become part of this cast; some a fame-hungry, some are looking for a way out, others are looking for a new life altogether. The teens are cast to fulfill certain roles, and the stereotypes they reflect. It’s a weird mix of Big Brother and Space Camp, and the audience is in on the joke from the get-go. That said, there’s still lots of surprises in store. Like, what happens when the uppity/vile nephew of the TV show’s producer is going to get axed? (Bring on the big guns…) What about the party girl–any more bras to display? The token minorities are messing up the chemistry, and there’s plenty of clueless to go around.

The telling of this story is a disjointed collection of transcripts from video recordings, cell phone calls and business meetings. There are roughly 15 POVs, so that’s a jumble. It took me a while to settle in, though I caught on to the sympathetic POVs in the early going. Nico and Titania are the heart and soul of the story–two kids who’ve been altered by tragedy. They are searching for more—meaning and acceptance, and they don’t go in for DV8’s shenanigans. The DV8 exec, Chazz, and his nephew Clayton are the typical reprehensibles, pulling all the strings and cutting despicable deals. I was pleasantly surprised by “Bacardi” and “Snout” and saddened by Louise. I had thought I wasn’t touched much by the book, then the end hit me like a sledgehammer to the chest. The storyline was a sleight of hand that morphed from zany and unpredictable into intense and emotional.

I’m not going to belabor the plot; some of the kids are desperately hoping to be a part of a space mission. Others know it’s gotta be hoax. The DV8 and NASAW folks are doing their utmost to convince the world their show is “real.” In the mix some true connections are made, and dare I say: the most fervent wishes of several of the cast are made real. I was pleasantly surprised how all the seemingly random plot threads were stretched and connected and eventually woven into an unexpectedly picturesque tapestry. For fans of reality TV, this book is a piercing commentary on the genre of entertainment, and how we consume fiction–in any medium. Expect plenty of showmanship, and deceit, and double-crossing. Expect subtle commentary on American xenophobia and racism. And if you read through to the end, expect to be surprised, and maybe delighted. Like I was.

Interested? You can find WASTE OF SPACE on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:

In Gina Damico’s words:  I grew up under four feet of snow in Syracuse, New York. I received a degree in theater and sociology from Boston College, where I was active with the Committee for Creative Enactments, a murder mystery improv comedy troupe that may or may not have sparked my interest in wildly improbably bloodshed. I have since worked as a tour guide, transcriptionist, theater house manager, scenic artist, movie extra, office troll, retail monkey, yarn hawker, and breadmonger.I live in Western Massachusetts with my husband, two cats, one dog, and and obscene amount of weird things purchased at yard sales.

You can find Gina on her website, Facebook and twitter.

Thanks for popping in! Be sure to check out the reviews of my pals in the Coffeehouse–they always pick some great reads.

Looking Past the GHOSTS & ASHES–Review and Giveaway!

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review and giveaway for a new M/M YA Sci-Fi adventure from F. T. Lukens. GHOSTS & ASHES is the sequel to the phenomenal THE STAR HOST, and should be read in order. This space opera features a technopathic boy trying to find his family a year after he’d been captured, tortured and escaped–and the military recruit who will sacrifice anything to keep him safe.

Catch an excerpt below and register to win a $25 GC or one of five ebooks.
About the book:
Three months have passed since the events of The Star Host, and Ren is living aboard the Star Stream under the watchful eyes of the Phoenix Corps. Plagued by vivid nightmares that ravage the ship in his sleep, he struggles to prove he isn’t a threat and fears he has traded one captor for another. His relationship with Asher, whose efforts to balance his personal loyalty to Ren with his professional duties to the Corps are failing, fractures.

Adrift without an anchor, Ren must return to his home planet of Erden if he has any chance of reversing his dangerous descent into madness. There, he hopes search for his missing brother and salvage his relationship with Asher. What he nds is knowledge that puts everyone’s allegiance to the test.

How about a little taste?

Ren sighed. Asher wanted to talk, and Ren’s insides ached with a fierce loneliness he hadn’t experienced since the first night in the cell of the Baron’s citadel. He didn’t want Asher’s words or his pity. And he didn’t want to relive the details of the nightmare, which had sent him twisting in his sheets and crawling across the floor. The sense memories clung to him, like cobwebs whose phantom threads, fluttery and strange and stubborn, brushed against his skin. The strands were infinite; they touched the deep places of Ren’s consciousness and burrowed down to his marrow to pull out the things that terrified him most.
He didn’t want to share the nightmare, but Asher’s flat countenance and sure gaze couldn’t hide his worry. It flashed in his eyes and ran in shaky tremors down the length of his crossed arms, as if he hugged himself to keep in his concerns and not as a defense to reflect whatever Ren had to throw at him.
Ren bent his knees, propped his arm up, and allowed his fingertips to dangle. Sweat flattened his hair against his temples. He regarded Asher coolly as Asher sat on the edge of Ren’s bunk.
“Do you remember when we went dancing?”
Asher blinked at the non-sequitur. “On Mykonos?”
Rowan had taken them dancing in a place with loud music and rotating lights. The beat had vibrated through Ren’s boots. “I had never been dancing like that before.”
Asher raised an eyebrow. “You weren’t bad. Well, not as bad as Jakob.”
“I liked the slow dance.” Asher had grabbed Ren in his arms and pulled him to the dance floor. They’d laughed and moved and all Ren’s worries had dissolved in happiness and the rhythm of the music. “I liked being with you. With the crew. I miss that.”
“We’re here now, Ren.”
He shook his head. “No. You’re not. It’s different now.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
Ren looked away.
“Ren, you’re not okay,” he said flatly.
“No. I’m not, but I didn’t feel like broadcasting it.”
“It’s a little late for that,” Asher said softly. Ren’s stomach twisted. Asher had all but confirmed his latest nightmare had played on the vid screens. The crew had seen what Ren couldn’t remember, didn’t want to remember. “You’re getting worse. And they know it.”
Ren twisted his lips. “I’m aware the crew already knows. Pen can’t lie for anything.”
“Not them. The Corps.”
Ren rested his head on his knees. “You told her. You threw me to the wolves.”
“I had to.”
“Why? Do you want me to leave? Be locked away?”
“Stars, Ren. You know I don’t want that.”
“I don’t know what you want, to be honest. I don’t understand why you hold allegiance to them at all.”
“Because I have to. I promised five years.”
“You and your promises,” Ren said bitterly. That was loyalty Ren couldn’t understand, not after what the Corps had done to Asher, not after having left him for a year to rot in a cell on what they called a backwater planet. But Ren was beginning to realize there were things he would never understand and maybe wasn’t meant to.
“And I promised I’d keep you safe. Any way I could. This is the only way. Don’t you understand that?”
Ren felt the slight touch of Asher’s fingertips across the back of his hand. His star sparked and sought out the mechanism in Asher’s shoulder instinctually.
Asher shivered.
“There’s a fine line between safety and captivity.”

My Review:
This is the second book in a series and best enjoyed when read in order.

Ren is a star host, a person who can control technology using his mind. He has the ability to mentally fuse with any electrical gadget, no matter how big or small, and can fix most any broken appliance with a touch. In the first book, he had been captured and tortured for this ability, as Baron Vos sought to bend Ren to his control as a weapon. Ren joined with Asher, a captive member of Phoenix Corps–a form of galactic police–and they escaped the Baron’s fortress. That was just the beginning of their saga, which I’ve described in my review.

Now, however, Ren adn Asher are struggling yet again. Phoenix Corps are directly monitoring Ren’s mental and emotional state with daily reports to assess if he’s a threat. Star hosts are notorious for bonding with their machines and losing humanity altogether. It’s not been easy for Ren to stay in his body when the Star Stream, his host ship, is calling out for his loving touch. Asher has pulled away, Ren believes, and Ren can’t sleep or eat. He’s on the verge of cracking when Asher confesses Ren’s instability and urges hsi commanding officer to allow Ren to return to his home planet to get a break from teh tech surrounding him. THis is Ren’s deepest wish, too. TO investigate the fate of his parents and brother–lost to him a year ago when he was captured.

Life on Erden isn’t what it had been. Ren’s humble village had been destroyed–by the Phoenix Corps, searching for Ren and other star hosts. It’s only one stage in a centuries-long battle Ren soon learns. And it makes him even more frustrated with Asher’s devotion to their service. Still, being on the planet does help Ren return to his humanity–though it’s short-lived. Ren’s mission to find his missing brother, Liam, brings them right into Phoenix Corps deadly sights, and their quest reunites Ren and Asher with their previous captors. Only this time, Baron Vos isn’t the only enemy to fear.

The pace of the story is excellent. Ren’s confusion and struggle to remain human is easy to understand. His hurt over Asher’s decisions, and coldness, is palpable. Their trust has been broken, but they still need to rely on one another to survive each challenge–and it gets really challenging. The sci-fi elements are engaging and accessible, even for people who don’t enjoy sci-fi, per se. Asher and Ren are a couple, to a degree, and there is a little bit of kissing and connection, but nothing to even blush over. This book is all about the action, and Ren’s quest to live as normal a life as possible as a star host. He’s convinced his brother is being held captive–confirmed by telepathic communication–and Ren is going to rescue Liam no matter what. Even if Asher stands against him. That’s an admirable stand, and Ren’s an admirable young man. Asher’s motives are often int he shadows, but his intent is to protect Ren, even from Ren’s instincts. The conflict is high, and the stakes are life/death/freedom, so it’s pretty intense.

Do not expect this story to end with this book. We are on a long story arc that leads Ren on many adventures. I liked where this ended, and I’m anxious to get the next book in the series. Highly recommend to folks who like sci-fi, and readers who want diverse characters.

Interested? You can find GHOSTS & ASHES on Goodreads, Goodreads, Interlude Press, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, Book Depository, IndieBound and Google Play.

****GIVEAWAY****

Click on this Rafflecopter giveaway link for your chance to win a $25 GC from Interlude Press or an ebook of GHOSTS & ASHES.
Good luck and keep reading my friends!

About the Author:
F.T. wrote her first short story when she was in third grade and her love of writing continued from there. After placing in the top five out of ten thousand entries in a writing contest, she knew it was time to dive in and try her hand at writing a novel.

A wife and mother of three, F.T. holds degrees in psychology and English literature, and is a long-time member of her college’s science-fiction club. F.T. has a love of cheesy television shows, superhero movies, and science-fiction novels—especially anything by Douglas Adams.

Connect with F.T. on her website, Twitter, Tumblr and on Goodreads.

Tough Life For a DO GOODER–A Review


Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for an intriguing YA adventure from j. leigh bailey. DO GOODER features two gay teens in big trouble in Central Africa. I’ve loved the new adult M/M romances I’ve read from this author, including FIGHT TO FORGIVE and RECKLESS HOPE, so I plucked this one out of my queue for a TBR Thursday feature.

About the book:
No good deed goes unpunished, and for seventeen-year-old Isaiah Martin, that’s certainly the case. The gun he was caught with wasn’t even his, for God’s sake. He only had it to keep a friend from doing something stupid. No one wants to hear it though, and Isaiah is banished—or so it seems to him—to live with his missionary father in politically conflicted Cameroon, Africa.

However, when he arrives, his father is so busy doing his good deeds that he sends Henry, the young, surprisingly hot do-gooder with a mysterious past, to pick up Isaiah and keep him out of trouble. Even while Isaiah is counting down the days until he can go home, he and Henry get caught in the political unrest of the region. Kidnapped by militant forces, the two have to work together to survive until they are rescued—unless they manage to find a way to save each other first.

My Review:
Isaiah Martin is a high school senior at a private school in Wisconsin when he tries to help a friend in dire need. His best friend is having severe home troubles, and Isaiah finds her near school with a gun in her lap–Isaiah tries to remove it and gets arrested for possession. His mother, a high powered attorney, gets his arrest expunged for probation as long as Isaiah spends the summer volunteering with his missionary physician father in Cameroon, Africa.

Isaiah isn’t thrilled with the idea, mostly because he hasn’t even heard from his father in the nine years since he and his mother moved back to the States. And, he’s really not happy when his dad can’t even make it to the airport to pick him up. Instead, Isaiah is collected by Henry, and young and attractive man who’s been working at the mission for a couple years. Isaiah is sullen and petulant, and the ride to the mission is two days long and arduous–including a stopover for fresh medical supplies.

There is some level of bonding as these two spend a day and night together, but it gets serious when Isaiah, a diabetic, struggles with his insulin pump–and Henry gets bitten by a venomous snake. Oh, and when the armed guerillas take them captive in an effort to locate components of a chemical weapon? Yeah, that really kicks this adventure into high gear.

DO GOODER was an engaging YA adventure, with openly gay characters caught in a high stakes plot. It felt very well-researched, and had elements of suspense that far surpassed the critical zone. Isaiah is literally slowly dying from DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) over the course of their imprisonment. Trusted friends are slaughtered, and it seems like only one–if either–of these boys will make it out alive. The anguish Isaiah feels because of his father’s political ties is extreme, and Henry’s self-sacrificing activity is more than a little harrowing. I really enjoyed how close these kids bonded, though the book is sexually-innocent, and ached for both of them when “rescue” comes to pass. It was a little hard to follow the timeline, because Isaiah is the narrator, and he’s overcome by disorientation that accompanies DKA. That said, the confusion gave an authentic feel to the point-of-view and kept the tension high.

Interested? You can find DO GOODER on Goodreads, Amazon, Harmony Ink, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and iTunes. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the author:
j. leigh bailey is an office drone by day and the author of New Adult and Young Adult LGBT Romance by night. She can usually be found with her nose in a book or pressed up against her computer monitor. A book-a-day reading habit sometimes gets in the way of… well, everything…but some habits aren’t worth breaking. She’s been reading romance novels since she was ten years old. The last twenty years or so have not changed her voracious appetite for stories of romance, relationships and achieving that vitally important Happy Ever After. She’s a firm believer that everyone, no matter their gender, age, sexual orientation or paranormal affiliation deserves a happy ending.

She wrote her first story at seven, which was, unbeknownst to her at the time, a charming piece of fan-fiction in which Superman battled (and defeated, of course) the nefarious X Luther. She was quite put out to be told, years later, that the character’s name was actually Lex. Her second masterpiece should have been a best-seller, but the action-packed tale of rescuing her little brother from an alligator attack in the marshes of Florida collected dust for years under the bed instead of gaining critical acclaim.

Now she writes New Adult and Young Adult LGBT Romance novels about boys traversing the crazy world of love, relationships and acceptance.

You can find j. leigh online on Facebook, her Facebook Author Page, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Thanks for popping, and keep reading my friends!

Cephalopod Coffeehouse February 2017: A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL–A Review

0ed81-coffeehouseHi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

This month, I’m recommending Eric Lindstrom’s A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL, a newly-published YA adventure through bipolar disorder. Having read and LOVED his debut, NOT IF I SEE YOU FIRST, (featuring a blind protagonist) I’m really enjoying Mr. Lindstrom’s ability to bring marginalized characters to the page in living color.

tragic-wonderfulAbout the book:
For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

My Review:
This is a contemporary YA novel about a character with severe bipolar disorder still learning how to cope with the ups and downs of her emotional world.

Mel Hannigan is a seventeen year old girl struggling through her days with a newly (one year) diagnosed bipolar disorder. Her elder brother, Nolan, also suffered this disease, as does her Aunt Joan–who they all call HJ or “Hurricane Joan.” Nolan, who we only meet in flashback, died four years ago–in an accident that stemmed from his mania. Since his tragic death, her parents have divorced and Mel lives with her mother and HJ. She’d also lived with her grandmother, but she died a year ago after a battle with stomach cancer.

Mel works in the Silver Sands, the same nursing home where her grandmother spent her final days. It’s a touchstone place, for her, where she has many friends among the residents, including Dr. Jordan–a retired psychiatrist. He helped “diagnose” Mel before she had her first manic episode–and subsequent crash–just over a year ago, now. At that time, Mel was having a break with her group of friends, losing Annie, Conner and Zumi when she backed away following a fight and power play which coincided with an inpatient stay for treatment of her mental issues. Now she balances a cocktail of prescriptions designed to keep her moods even, and has two close-ish friends Holly and Declan, who brought her school work home over the period of her long absence and recovery–which everyone believes was for mono and bronchitis, not bipolar disorder.

When the book picks up, Annie has inexplicably reached out to leave behind childhood relics with Mel for Conner and Zumi–mementos of their friendship–because Annie’s family is moving to Paris and she doesn’t want to confront either Conner or Zumi regarding this life change. Turns out Annie isn’t a nice person, and Zumi was desperately crushing on her. Mel knows it will break Zumi’s heart, and the stress is fracturing her grip on her moods. Right about then, Mel meets David, grandson of one of the elderly residents at Silver Sands, and they strike a cautious friendship–which could lead to more. They both seem to want this, but Mel is reluctant because she doesn’t think she–the gal with the broken brain–is really worthy of love. Surely someone “normal” is better suited for everyone. Just look at HJ! She’s the life of the party and pretty, but no man will settle down with her.

Okay, so, being in the mind of a person with a mental condition like bipolar disorder is never easy. There are bouts of mania and depression, and episodes of disordered thinking and obsessive-compulsive behavior. That’s not all of the book, but those moments exist and they ramp the tension up high as we’re not quite sure where Mel will go, or what she will do, when she’s manic, or obsessive. She does a LOT of checking in with her body and mind, and talking to responsible adults about her mental well-being, with is fantastic. Her aunt’s not a great influence, because she’s sure that Mel’s missing out on life, doped up and quelled by medication. Joan is currently unmedicated, but her strong personality doesn’t sway Mel from her chosen course to medicate–because she knows how things can go tragically wrong for someone like herself–like Nolan–when there’s no meds on board. And, unfortunately, in her periods of mania she sometimes misses doses, leading to a downward spiral that results in another bad episode.

I really liked this book because it didn’t feel varnished. It was a challenge, however, to keep up with Mel, and I think I’d have liked more information about Nolan up-front. That said, going along the winding path and following Mel into the rabbit hole of her racing mind was eye-opening. Having dealt with emotional wellness issues in myself and close family members for decades now, it was a journey I’m familiar with, and felt resonated off the page. Mental illness is never an easy read, but Mel’s upbeat and committed choice for medical care was refreshing. I really appreciated the rich support network that assisted Mel, and how her fears of being abandoned once people learned her real “illness” weren’t reinforced.

There’s a hint of romance, but it’s not the focus. Instead, the real-life dramas of friendships dissolving and new ones forming are the center of the book. These stressors are common for teens, which provides the context for grasping Mel’s underlying medical problems, and makes her reaction to those stressors accessible, even in their extremes.

Interested? You can find A TRAGIC KIND OF WONDERFUL on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

Thanks for popping in, and be sure to check out the book-of-the-month recommendations from my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers…

Caught In The Magic: FROSTBLOOD, A Review

Hi there! Today I’m sharing a review for a new YA fantasy from Elly Blake. FROSTBLOOD is the first book in a series set in a world where some are born to wield flame or frost–and the Firebloods, like 17 year old Ruby, have been hunted to near extinction. Why would she ever agree to help the Frostbloods do anything?

Oh, right, to kill the merciless Frostblood king….

frost-bloodAbout the book:
The frost king will burn.
Seventeen-year-old Ruby is a Fireblood who has concealed her powers of heat and flame from the cruel Frostblood ruling class her entire life. But when her mother is killed trying to protect her, and rebel Frostbloods demand her help to overthrow their bloodthirsty king, she agrees to come out of hiding, desperate to have her revenge.

Despite her unpredictable abilities, Ruby trains with the rebels and the infuriating—yet irresistible—Arcus, who seems to think of her as nothing more than a weapon. But before they can take action, Ruby is captured and forced to compete in the king’s tournaments that pit Fireblood prisoners against Frostblood champions. Now she has only one chance to destroy the maniacal ruler who has taken everything from her—and from the icy young man she has come to love.

My Review:
Ruby is a teen girl unsure how to manage the demands of her Fireblood heritage in a land where being a Fireblood is a death sentence in itself. Born with the ability to wield fire from her hands, she must release some of this power now and then or she feels pent-up and unstable. She always hides deep in the woods outside their remote village to test and release her fire magic, but the day comes when the Frostblood King’s soldiers find her and burn their village for daring to “harbor” a Fireblood. They also kill her mother right before Ruby’s eyes.

She’s imprisoned, kept in a state of complete damp and cold to douse her flames, and starved nearly to death, only to be rescued by a Frostblood master, Brother Thistle, and his protector, Arcus. They vow to save her if she will help them kill the king–and that’s a bargain Ruby’s all too eager to make.

Safely ensconced in an abbey to Fors, the god of Frost, Ruby is trained by Brother Thistle in the safe wielding of her flames, and by Arcus in hand-to-hand combat and swordsmanship. Not all the monks are in favor of keeping a Fireblood nearby, however, and view Ruby’s training as traitorous to the throne. Over time, Ruby and Arcus develop a camaraderie that slides into attraction. She’s there for several months, as the attack on the king is planned for the summer solstice, the time when Ruby’s fire magic will be naturally at it’s zenith. But, she’s frustrated when she learns that the total plan isn’t necessarily to kill the king. It turns out that his ice throne, fashioned by Fors a thousand years before, has been corrupted by dark magic, and Thistle and Arcus believe that darkness has inflicted a madness on the king. Perhaps if Ruby melts the throne, she can restore sanity to the king, who can then call off the hunt for Firebloods.

Ruby isn’t in love with this plan, and feels vengeance is hers to claim–but she’s captured by the king’s soldiers before she and Arcus can mount their siege. Being a Fireblood, Ruby is pressed into the King’s gladiatorial entertainment, fully expected to be killed in her first event. When she wins–aided by magic that isn’t hers–Ruby knows she’s living on borrowed time. If only she can get her flames on the King’s throne before her life is snuffed.

For a fantasy, I really found the realistic development of Ruby as a heroine to be excellent. She’s not a quick study. She gets frustrated. She makes mistakes that harm her, and those around her, but she’s valiant and determined. Ruby wants to be useful, wants to help herself and all the Firebloods, and Brother Thistle is a patient teacher she wants to please. Arcus is moody and mean-spirited at times, pushing and prodding Ruby to get her off-center. He knows the kind of battles she’ll face if they can get her into the King’s court, and his tough-love approach felt realistic, as well. Her experiences in the King’s court are filled with intrigues, humiliation, and brutality. She’s forced to meet her mother’s killer many times, even in battle, and Ruby has to keep her wits clear to keep herself alive. The magic that afflicts the King is in play throughout the court–and Ruby’s not immune. She has the opportunity to embrace this power, and change her place in the world dramatically, but her deep rapport with Thistle and Arcus keep her grounded in a way she hadn’t expected. The worldbuilding is really good, with scenes that are fleshed out and a menacing tone imbued throughout the prose. The juxtaposition of ice and fire was a constant theme, and related not just their powers but also the emotional landscape of the players: hot-headed Ruby has burning passions, while Thistle and Arcus are cool, collected and calculating.

The love story that develops between Ruby and Arcus is quiet, with only a few moments of acknowledgment before the climax. It seemed a natural progression of their time spent together–from wariness to acknowledgement, to friendship, esteem and eventually attraction. Arcus has a dark history, and his desire to destroy the throne is tied to his intimate knowledge of the king and the monarchy. I was happy that my suspicions regarding his heritage were accurate. I liked the rawness of the experiences that Ruby endures, and how her personal tragedies help forge her into a warrior ready to save herself and those she loves. This book is slated as the first in a series, and ends in a way that completes the initial story arc. There is no cliffhanger, and I expect the next book will have a whole new set of troubles for Ruby to solve–with Arcus at her side.

Interested? You can find FROSTBLOOD on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks and Kobo. I received a review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author:
Elly Blake loves fairy tales, old houses, and owls. After earning a BA in English literature, she held a series of seemingly random jobs, including project manager, customs clerk, graphic designer, reporter for a local business magazine, and library assistant. She lives in Southwestern Ontario with her husband, kids and a Siberian Husky mix who definitely shows Frostblood tendencies.

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

Thanks for popping in, and keep reading my friends!