Sunday, August 18, 2019

Phoenix Fiction Writers Giveaway

Today I am celebrating my 200th blog post! *throws confetti* *inhales confetti* *coughs up confetti* Maybe I should imagine throwing something else…

Anyway, I’d like to thank my readers once again for your support, and because my blogiversary giveaway got way more attention than I’d expected, I’m here to share another giveaway with you! International entries welcome.*

This time, however, I’d like to feature some indie authors, specifically the Phoenix Fiction Writers. They’re a group of speculative fiction authors who write short stories to novels that cover fairy tale retellings to original works. Though I haven’t read all of their stories yet (slow down, guys!), I have enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far.

The following books are organized by authors’ last names.

*Print entries only available in the US. International entries are welcome for e-books only. Some books may have restrictions for certain countries. If the book of your choice is not available in your country, you may have to select a substitute.

Beast in the Machine by E. B. Dawson

A sci-fi retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

There are only two reasons people move to Ilford: to study at the renowned scientific research center, or to escape society. Dr. Richter intends to further his research. But his daughter Isabelle finds there is a strange enmity between the scientists and the villagers, and it has something to do with the reclusive man who hired her, Dr. Sebastian Prince. 

I haven’t actually read this one yet, but what a stunning cover! I’m a huge fan of sci-fi, so that’s a plus.

“Sounds of Deceit” by Hannah Heath

One sorcerer. Four assassins. Uncover the stories of the warriors who will one day band together to kill the most powerful being in their world.

Death and destruction. Those are the consequences of being a magician under Elgar's rule. Ailith once thought that she could be the exception, but now she sees that her skillset only brings about pain, even upon those she intends to protect. Convinced that there is only one solution, Ailith buries herself in obscurity and turns her back on the warrior life.

It is a simple decision at first, but one that grows more and more complicated as Elgar, a tyrannical sorcerer, continues his reign of death and injustice. When Ailith is offered an opportunity to fight against Elgar once again, she must decide: Will she continue to live in fear of her powers? Or will she embrace them, no matter the consequences?

Heath’s latest short story in her Terebinth Tree Chronicles. For those new to the series and to her work, her other stories are also available as potential prizes: “Skies of Dripping Gold” (stand alone, see short story review), “Colors of Fear” (Terebinth Tree, #1), and “Flames of Courage” (Terebinth Tree, #2).

Two Lives Three Choices by K. L. + Pierce

When two new students arrive at Krysta’s school, she quickly discovers she must: choose her friends. Seeing one of the new students sitting alone, Krysta must decide whether she’s willing to risk a friendship she already has for someone she hardly knows. That choice causes Krysta to have visions, revealing that the new arrivals are more than they seem. Choose her side. The new students, Alec and Dion, are more than rivals. They are bitter enemies involved in the war that Krysta is suddenly thrust in the middle of. Unable to run, she must now choose where her loyalties lie. Choose whether she’s willing to die for those she loves. Because when a friend is in danger, Krysta knows she can save them. But saving her friend’s life could cost Krysta her own. Those three choices will define the life Krysta leads… and the one that she leaves behind.

More sci-fi! Aside from her short story, I haven’t read much of Pierce’s work yet, but I’m curious to see how her full-length novel plays out.

The Beast of Talesend by Kyle Robert Shultz (Signed copy!)

Fairy tales aren’t real. Private detective Nick Beasley knows that. This is 1922 E.A. (Ever After), an age of big cities, automobiles, and airships. Nobody in the Afterlands believes in magic and monsters anymore. Especially not Nick, who’s made a name for himself in the city of Talesend by debunking fraudulent “magical” phenomena.

But when a misadventure with alleged enchantress Lady Cordelia Beaumont goes awry, leaving Nick with claws, a tail, and quite a lot of fur, he begins to rethink his stance on magic.

There’s only one way for Nick to regain his humanity. He and Cordelia will have to retrieve a powerful magical artifact from a ruthless crime lord—who happens to be Cordelia’s father. Otherwise, Nick won’t be the only monster roaming through Talesend.

The fate of the Afterlands lies in the hands of a renegade enchantress and an extremely hairy detective. What could possibly go wrong?

Typically, I’m not a huge fan of fairy tale retellings because I find them uber predictable, but there are a few stellar ones for which I’m willing to make exceptions. The Beast of Talesend is one of them (see book review). I started the series last year, and I’m eagerly awaiting book 4.

Child of the Kaites by Beth Wangler

Desert fantasy retelling of the story of Moses, with magic swords, homicidal storms, and griffins.

The kaites are spiritual beings who can dwell in rocks, plants, and water.

They saved baby Rai from the watery death faced by her people. They raised her in the blessed region. They told her she would be the Leader of a Revolt.

She was going to free her people from slavery.

At least, that's what Rai used to believe. Then she grew up.

Living as an exile under an assumed identity, Rai can't lead a conversation, let alone a slave revolt. Her role in life is to be an historian. She will lead her people by reminding them of who they are, nothing more.

Yet the Izyphorn empire's evils continue. Her people are still enslaved. Babies are dying every day.

Someone needs to do something.

Reunions with childhood friends and encounters with an enigmatic stranger force Rai to reexamine what her purpose is. Is she called to be a humble historian or a mighty warrior...

Or are those the same thing?

Did somebody say griffins? I have yet to read this one, but it sounds incredible. I have read a couple of Wangler’s short stories, and I enjoy her writing style!

Antiheroes: A Phoenix Fiction Writer’s Anthology

Seven science fiction and fantasy stories about antiheroes:

  • A man determined to get justice for his family, no matter the cost
  • A gynoid with two conflicting programming directives
  • A teenage boy determined to protect the people who have become his friends
  • A monster slayer who is not everything she appears to be
  • A young cyborg who makes an unthinkable choice in hopes of a better future
  • A mischievous shopkeeper trying to stay one step ahead of trouble
  • A blood hunter who discovers a lie that will change the course of her life

This collection turned out to be a delightful read. A collection of sci-fi and fantasy short stories by each of the Phoenix Fiction Writers.

Let’s chat! Which Phoenix Fiction book are you most interested in reading? Have you read any of them before? What’s your take on fairy tale retellings? Do you prefer sci-fi or fantasy? How about both?


Sunday, August 11, 2019

7 Reasons I Enjoy Young Adult Novels

I can’t believe I haven’t written about this yet. I mean, come on, what am I thinking!?

So I know Young Adult (YA) fiction isn’t technically a genre. If we’re going to be technical and all, it’s more of a target audience. (For those unfamiliar with bookish terms, bookworms refer to young adults as those ages 13-18, not 18-24.) I guess you could say I find myself drawn to books for teenagers.

Here are just a few reasons why.

1) YA novels aren’t as dense as some of the other books on my TBR list.

For example, I really, thoroughly enjoy Les Miserables and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell but my goodness! Why are they so LONG?

Often times, YA novels range between 250-350 pages. Every now and then, one might border on 400, and rarely 800. (I’m looking at you, Inheritance and Order of the Phoenix.) With this length, it’s so much easier to pick shorter books up, carry them around, and read them in one sitting.

Just a few perfectly short novels include but are not limited to:

The Giver by Lois Lowry at 208 pages (arguably middle grade, but I’m lumping it with young adult here)
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart at 242 pages (see book review)
A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews at 282 pages (see book review)

2) They’re engaging, easy reads.

Sometimes, I don’t like to work to understand a book. Some days, I just want a story to sweep me away so that I forget I’m reading at all.

For example, when I was walking the Camino, I was torn between reading a sci-fi novel or a YA contemporary. I figured I’d read the first page of each and see which one I preferred. I read then put down the sci-fi novel. Then I picked up the contemporary, and before I knew it, I was on chapter two. For anybody wondering, that book was Kids Like Us, and you can check out my book review here.

3) The themes are more complex in young adult novels than in middle grade ones.

I sense another post coming on…

Until then, I like how in-depth young adult novels can be. From stories about found families to those that confront toxic stereotypes, YA is one of the most dynamic target audiences. While there are still areas that need improving (ease up on the romance, please, I’m begging you!), you don’t have to go far to find great themes.

Just a few YA novels with excellent themes include the following:

Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner (see book review)
Fawkes by Nadine Brandes (see book review)
The Art of Feeling by Laura Tims

4) Reading YA makes me feel young.

I mean, I’m still young, but technically I “aged out” of being the target audience six years ago. Do you think that’s going to stop me from reading books about high schoolers? Haha, nope. I’ve never fit in with my age group. What makes you think I’m going to start now?

It’s also fun to read YA novels and then force them on recommend them to my sister. Once she reads them, we can geek out together. It’s a lot of fun! And by fun, I mean she just about killed me when she accidentally spoiled Our Dark Duet (Monsters of Verity, book 2) for herself.

5) YA introduced me to so many amazing genres.

If I hadn’t read as much YA as I do, I probably wouldn’t have discovered some amazing books. I started off enjoying fantasy and animal stories. Now, I don’t read as many animal stories, and I still enjoy fantasy, but thanks to YA, I’ve also discovered novels in verse (So. Much. YES!), historical fiction, realistic contemporary, and even some classics.

I could use more YA sci-fi, though. I am now accepting recommendations. Please, and thank you.

6) YA novels can be empowering.

Another thing I like about this category is how it’s so hopeful. That’s not to say that every book is about hope—sometimes it’s downright depressing. But overall, YA is full of characters taking action rather than bemoaning their lives.

You want to change the world? Go do it!

A few YA novels that have empowered me:

A List of Cages by Robin Roe
Audacity by Melanie Crowder (see book review)
Starfish by Akemi Dawn Bowman

7) Reading YA can be addicting.

You know how I mentioned I read two chapters without realizing it? Well, sometimes that happens with books and series too. YA can be really easy to get hooked on.

When I finished my M.A. in English Lit, for months on end, I almost read nothing but YA. Since I’ve finished with my degrees for the moment, I’ve gone back to reading more classics and nonfiction, but YA is still my go-to, especially when I step into a bookstore or library.

8) Bonus: I like to write YA.

Apparently, I can’t count.

The best type of research is experience. If you want to know what it’s like to go skydiving, do it. If you want to know what it’s like to be a teenager, use the quantum void to become a teenager again. I mean… um… you know, reading YA fiction helps. So does spending time with young adults.

There you have it! Just a few reasons why I read what I read and why I post so many reviews about YA novels.

Let’s chat! Where are my fellow YA readers? How about YA writers? What are some of your favorite elements of YA? Any that I missed? Have any sci-fi recommendations?


Literary references: Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Lois Lowry’s The Giver, E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars, C. G. Drews’ A Thousand Perfect Notes, Hilary Reyl’s Kids Like Us, Jeff Zentner’s Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner, Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes, Laura Tim’s The Art of Feeling, Victoria Schwab’s Our Dark Duet, Robin Roe’s A List of Cages, Melanie Crowder’s Audacity, and Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Starfish

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Poem: Fireflies

I find aspects I enjoy in every place I live. In England, I enjoyed biking along the canals and the river. From my last house, I enjoyed hiking up to nearby German castles, and in Spain, I liked listening to the always-distant mockingbirds. 

In the American Midwest, I have enjoyed re-discovering fireflies. As a kid, I used to catch them while visiting my grandparents’ house and when we lived in Kansas. While people here may just consider them another bug, I see them as a novelty, a beauty, a passing moment that I wish I could hold on to, but may one day have to let go. 


Sometimes I wish I could disappear— 
one moment bright and glowing, 
like a buoy bobbing in the night, 


I still exist
                    in the dark 
but here, I don’t have to shine 
—just be. 


Let’s chat! What did you think of the poem? What are some aspects you enjoy about where you live? 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Book Review: Kids Like Us

Wow, what a sweet book!

Though the cover didn’t particularly draw me in, I now see how it ties in with the story, and I like it more. What really had me hooked, though, was the first page. I found myself in a reading slump and thought I’d just check out the first page to decide whether or not I wanted to read the book. Before I knew what was happening, I was on the second chapter.

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
My rating: 5/5 stars
One-word description: Cultural

Do you ever have those moments when you feel like you know a little bit of too many languages, so your brain is just a muddle of confusion trying to separate them all? I just so happened to be traveling in Spain while I was reading this book, which is set in France. In this sense I could relate a bit with the story’s main character, Martin, who mixes up his pronouns. After I finished another chapter, I was trying out my poor excuse for Spanish and asked somebody “Hablo Inglés?” Essentially: Do I speak English?

I don’t know. Do I? I certainly don’t speak Spanish. Not yet anyway.

I really enjoyed the way the book included the French culture, and it felt like the author, Reyl, knew what she was writing about rather than just setting a book in France without showing anything about it. She talked about the language and cultural differences, particularly when it comes to food and schools.

Kids Like Us also helped me better understand autism. I have a brother who’s high functioning, and I’m always looking for novels and nonfiction alike that can help me better understand autism as a whole. While my brother is obsessed with history and politics, Martin relates everything in his life with In Search of Lost Time, a French classic he’s read again and again.

Sometimes navigating social interactions can be like trying to learn a foreign language—it’s hard. I also liked how the book had characters with autism also had different interests. Usually, most books I’ve found have one character with autism, not two. I liked seeing how Martin interacted with his friend Layla, even though she was back in the United States while he was in France for the entire book. Which I can relate with a lot. As a military brat, most of my friends aren’t in the same time zone as me, let alone the same country. Characters don’t have to be physically present to be involved in a novel, which isn’t something I see a lot of.

Though the blurb kinda advertises the book as a romance, I saw it more as a story of friendship, which I support 100%. Though there are mistaken identities and many assumptions, there is also great character development.

In all, I gave Kids Like Us 5/5 stars for an excellent setting without being excessive, autism representation, and great character development. I’d recommend the book to anybody who enjoys contemporary YA and French food and culture.

Interested in Kids Like Us? Have you read it yet? You might also enjoy these books: A World Without You by Beth Revis (see book review), Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman, and The Art of Feeling by Laura Tims.

Let’s chat! Has Kids Like Us made it to your to-be-read list yet? Have you read it? What are some contemporary YA recommendations you have?


Sunday, July 21, 2019

Controversy in Fiction: Gender and Stereotypes

Welcome back to my ongoing and inconsistent series, Controversy in Fiction! I’ve written posts on female authors and characters before, but there’s still much to cover. What about male characters? And how do they compare to females?

As a female, I have a really hard time writing female characters. Say what now? Let me rephrase—despite being a woman, I have a hard time writing stereotypical feminine characters. While this shouldn’t be a bad thing, when I get critical feedback from other writers, male and female alike, I often get comments like, “This is more of a masculine trait” in reference to my female protagonist speeding or even “I thought your character was a guy” when her name comes up.

Thanks, guys. I appreciate the feedback.

I will admit, I am guilty of making assumptions of my own, except I’m more likely to assume a character is a female rather than male. Perhaps it’s easier for readers to understand characters they can identify with. Stereotypes exist for a reason, but more often than not blatant stereotyping can be obnoxious. Here are just a few such stereotypes and some well-written characters that defy them.

Disclaimer: This post may contain controversial opinions that are not necessarily the same as those of readers. I will not be discussing sexuality or gender identity. Rather, the purpose of this post is to examine some of the stereotypes between males and females and how it relates with fiction.

Not all Strong Female Heroes Wield a Sword or Bow

Don’t get me wrong, I like swords and bows. I’ve taken fencing lessons and would like to learn longsword fighting, though I might be better with long-range weapons. I was called Annie Oakley the last time I handled a gun. My little sister even has a collection of seventeen daggers, two of which are throwing knives. But strength isn’t just in the ability to fight or defend oneself.

Strength can be in recognizing one’s self-worth, like Roza in Bone Gap.

Strength can be in the ability to recognize one’s shortcomings yet to love wholehearted all the same, like Emma in Fawkes.

Strength can be in reaching out to help somebody even when it’s hard, like Samantha in The Art of Feeling.

Strength can be in standing up for what one believes in despite brutal opposition, like Clara in Audacity.

Strength can be in the ability to empathize with others when logic is seen as superior, like Octavia in A Conspiracy of Stars.

The above are just a few of the many characters who have shown their strength doesn’t have to lie in the ability to lead an army. While I do enjoy stories about adventure and revolutions (I will sing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “Red and Black” all the livelong day), I also enjoy stories about personal struggles or fights that don’t take place on a battlefield.

After all, there’s more than one way to be strong.

“Male” Recklessness and “Female” Sensitivity

This is the part where I probably confuse critique partners. I’m a female, but sometimes I can be pretty reckless. For example, I have driven up to 110mph, though unlike my protagonist, my experience was on the speed-free section of the autobahn, not an American highway. It’s not just males who have impulses.

That and I don’t include a lot of feelings in my initial drafts. I’m just not a touchy-feely kind of person. I don’t really care for reading paragraph after paragraph about how a certain character felt guilty about eating a slice of cake or couldn’t make up their mind whether to get into a sketchy car. I’d rather jump to the action, then add the emotion later.

Just a few of my favorite characters who don’t quite fit the stereotypes or reckless males and sensitive females:

The Cinnamon Roll—Beck in A Thousand Perfect Notes

I Wish I Could Be Sweet but I’m Not, Deal with It—Rumi in Summer Bird Blue

Is Actually a Cinnamon Roll—August—and Looks Likes a Cinnamon Roll but can Actually Kill You—Kate in This Savage Song

Not all Males Have to be Dark and Brooding

Not all men can be Batman. Actually, if they were all Batman, it would be really annoying. If anything, I find that characters who are solely dark and brooding appear less developed, as if the writer couldn’t think of anything for the guy to say and gave him as few lines as possible.

As you’re probably aware, I’m a huge fan of Marvel movies—take Guardians of the Galaxy for instance. At one point, Yondu, Quill’s father-figure, accuses Quill of being overly sentimental after he joins forces with an assassin: “Is that what she’s been filling your head with, boy? Sentiment? Eating away your brain like maggots!” Nevermind that, as it turns out, Yondu is actually one of the most sentimental characters. He collects figurines for his dashboard and treats Quill like a son.

Guys can be a good friend and more than just the love interest, like Caleb in Tell Me Something Real.

Guys can be tender-hearted and sweet, like Julian in A List of Cages.

Guys are allowed to love and grieve, like Carver in Goodbye Days.

Guys can have dreams for their future and not want to fight, like Ponyboy in The Outsiders.

Fitting the Stereotype

Sometimes, though, stereotypes are there for a reason. For example, I’m a very stereotypical young adult author—I’m a white female with a hard-to-spell first name; I like coffee and tea; and I enjoy chasing butterflies with my camera. But in other ways, I’m different—I’m a military brat who struggles to keep time zones straight; I don’t actually like killing off characters; and I like quirky and obscure novels.

Women can like makeup and wield words with power, like Phillipa in The Light Between Worlds.

Men can be secretive and protective yet kind and ready to let women protect themselves, like Adrian in Renegades.

It’s all about the balance of knowing what the stereotypes are and when to use them. Characters should not just be their roles or their gender, but first and foremost, characters should be human.

Let’s chat! What are some of your least favorite gender-orientated stereotypes? Who are some of your favorite strong female characters? How about soft male ones?


Similar Controversy in Fiction posts: Feminism and Female Characters, Feminism and Female Authors, and Diversity

Film references: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1 and 2

Literary references: Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, Nadine Brandes’ Fawkes, Laura Tims’ The Art of Feeling, Melanie Crowder’s Audacity, Olivia A. Cole’s A Conspiracy of Stars, C. G. Drews’ A Thousand Perfect Notes, Akemi Dawn Bowman’s Summer Bird Blue, Victoria Schwab’s This Savage Song, Calla Devlin’s Tell Me Something Real, Robin Roe’s A List of Cages, Jeff Zentner’s Goodbye Days, S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, Laura E. Weymouth’s The Light Between Worlds, and Marissa Meyer’s Renegades

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Confessions of a Bookworm Tag and Blogiversary Giveaway

Yesterday was my 5th blogiversary! *throws confetti* *trips over stack of unwritten blog post ideas* Why do I still have these?

What’s new since I started blogging? Well, I went from once a month posts to once a week, which is plenty of fun even if it took some working up to! I fell into a semi-regular schedule of poetry, bookish, writing posts, then a book review, but sometimes I like to change it up. And I started recording my poems! Personally, I like the audio ones because they’re a little less work, but my video ones have gotten more views. Thanks, guys.

What’s in store? I’d like to get more involved in blogging tags, like this one, and I’m hoping to add a traditionally published novel to my list of publications. Since I commissioned an artist to redesign my blog cover, and I’m still enamored with her work, I may invest in some artistic bookmarks. We shall see!

Without further ado, here are some things I’ve done as a bookworm that I may or may not be proud of. Don’t forget to stick around for the giveaway at the end!

What’s the first book you fell asleep to?

That’s easy. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Other Stories. Not that it was boring, I was just tired. Since then, I have fallen asleep to many a book.

What’s the longest it’s ever taken you to read a book?

Unless we’re counting the books I started two years ago and still haven’t finished *cough* The Silmarillion *cough*, eight months. I started reading Moby-Dick in January, 2017 and didn’t finish it until late August that same year. It didn’t help that I borrowed a library copy and had to keep renewing, returning, and checking it out again.

What’s the first book you threw across the room?

I’ve never actually done that because I wouldn’t want to hurt the book. I have angrily tossed a book on my bed or the couch before, though. Another time, I tripped and accidentally threw a copy of Gemina (Illuminae Files, book 2) into a puddle. I feel less bad about that one knowing 1) it had a protective sleeve around the dust cover, and 2) it was a misprinted copy that repeated fifty pages in the middle of the book.

Have you ever spilled anything on a book?

Spilled? No. But I once accidentally got lipstick all over a library book once because the cap came off in my purse. That was… awkward. I still feel bad about that.

Have you ever had to pay a library fine?

No, actually. My local library doesn’t do fines. 😊

What’s an unpopular opinion you have about a popular book/series?

Only one? Hmmm… I’m going to go with the Harry Potter series. People either refuse to read it or let their kids read it, or they thoroughly enjoy it. I find the series kinda meh. *ducks behind the oh-so-convenient pillar before the fans blast me with fire*

Name one thing you do when reading that some might call unusual.

I read the acknowledgements at the end of every book. For one, I like getting the full credit for having read those pages. Thank you, Goodreads. For another, I like to see who influenced the author(s) even if the page lists names of people I don’t know, which can get rather tedious. Perhaps the best acknowledgements I have read are from the Illuminae Files. They’re morbid but humorous.

Name an author you like whose name you cannot pronounce.

Elizabeth Wein. I will read all of her historical fiction! Her name looks simple, right? But how on earth does she say her last name? Is it the English pronunciation Ween? Or the German pronunciation Vine? Send help.

Name a character you like whose name you cannot pronounce.

Among the many, the first that comes to mind is Nimona. Here’s a quick excerpt from my book review: neither my sister nor I can determine how to pronounce the name Nimona. Simple, isn’t it? Nimoa. Minoa. Moana. Pneumonia. Wait… Send help. We’re a mess!

What’s the last movie you discovered was based on a book you haven’t read yet?

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle. I seriously had no idea this was even a book and only discovered it when a friend and I were talking about the movies and she mentioned the book.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done in the name of reading?

Do I really have to answer this one? Fine. I applied to the University of Nottingham’s English Lit program and moved to England rather than face the prospect of having to get a job in the States. There, I wrote it. If somebody had told me sooner that applying to jobs was a faster process than querying a novel, I might not have the degrees I have today. But I’m glad my life has turned out the way it has.

Now for more fun! I tag the following bloggers:
S. M. Metzler @ Tea with Tumnus
Faith Rene Boggus @ A Boggus Life
And You!

Giveaway time! International entrees welcome, so long as you can get Kindle books and/or Book Depository ships to you.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Update (20 July 2019): Congratulations to Chittajit!

Let’s chat! What are some of the craziest things you’ve ever done as a reader? Are you a blogger? What are some elements of blogging that you enjoy?