A Closer Look Back To Move Forward

BEFORE I GO…

It’s tempting to rush headlong into the new year, yet a fruitful start begins with a rewarding end. What to keep, and what to throw in the trash? To plan for the future, without wisdom gained from the past, would be like jumping off a cliff wearing a blindfold…and I did that last year.

Although, had I known how rough 2018 would be, I probably would’ve hid in a cave instead and not achieved all that I did. I look back with no small amount of compassion for myself, because in hindsight, I didn’t quite celebrate my wins properly. So, that’s the first keeper…

KEEP IT

Small wins. Last year roared in with with a fresh divorce and followed up with the constant change of adjusting to single working motherhood. I catalogued everything with a new series of artwork, and a soul searching blog post as I released each one. Close-ups of the work are featured above, and you can see the complete undertaking HERE.

They were hard for me to look at afterward, the posts so painful to read, that I almost deleted them. But it was all part of the healing process: just finishing each painting was a win, and every post is a goldmine for me now.

Upon reflection, most important is the need to keep self-esteem high in the midst of all the ups and downs. Each hit I take doesn’t need to be a personal disaster, if I remember that challenges don’t decrease my inherent worth. In fact, challenge secures growth. Lynda Field says it better than I do, and her book “Self-Esteem Coach” is like having a life coach on your Kindle. She makes the point that, “We all have our ‘stuff’ so we might as well embrace it, and investigate it, because this is the only way towards increasing self-respect, self-appreciation, self-esteem and happiness.”

I especially love the investigating–not just book research, but also…

Personal tarot reading. Oh, how I remember the confusion and desperation, the crying, “Someone please tell me it will get better.” I just wanted someone to say it would all be okay, but whether you believe in clairvoyance or not, the better question may be, “Would knowing the future actually be helpful anyway?”

Consider being certain that you would achieve a particular goal, because a psychic told you that you would. You’re so certain, that you hardly feel the need to work toward your goal at all. Now what happens to your success? That’s not the point with tarot cards anyway. As Amber Khan, one of my favorite tarot readers, puts it, “What I thought tarot would be like: I can see the past, present and future so clearly!! What it’s actually like: damn I just got called the fuck out by a deck of cards.” Her readings are artful, by the way, on The Quietest Revolution.

What makes tarot meaningful, helpful, and relevant is that the future is determined by our actions today. The cards are full of history and symbolism, part of our collective consciousness, so they remind us that life is bigger than one person or event. The great equalizer is that any card can come up for any person, a universal truth. In other words, they help us gain perspective when life seems small, if we’re willing to listen. And the best way to intimately use them for self-reflection is to read them yourself. There are plenty of books out there which fully explain the history, astrology, numerology, and even their connection with ancient texts like the Kabbalah. I like to research each card as it comes up, with a reputable free online resource like Biddy Tarot.

Realistic plans. Speaking of the present predicting the future, the way to achieve anything is to make a good plan and execute it. Too easy, and the results are nothing special. Too hard, and the results never happen.

The best book I’ve read in a long time about getting shit done was The 12 Week Year, by Brian Moran. I love the way this book breaks up the challenge of a successful year into workable segments, rather than an annual plan. The idea is that our goals are usually too broad, too daunting, or too far in the distance. We blow them off for later, and when later comes, it’s way too late for all the big dreams, and we often settle for less than we’re capable of. The 12 Week method teaches anyone how to be a kickass CEO of their own life. And if you totally screw up the first try like I did, chances are you still got more done in a short period of time than you usually do, and you haven’t killed the whole year. Just begin a new 12 weeks.

Speaking of productivity, I took a long, hard look this year at what has kept me stagnant, especially while nursing old wounds and keeping beer in my tears. These things have got to go…

TRASH IT

The belief that red wine is good for me. I’m not gonna lie, the resveratrol in cabernet wasn’t what I was drinking it for. Never has been. Not surprisingly, my taste for a full-bodied red was often satisfied during the divorce, as a coping mechanism. I never even thought of giving up my simple pleasure and solace during all that drama. Yet, after the dust settled and I tried to cut back…whoops. It wasn’t so easy. Huh? I had never experienced problems with willpower before. As usual, I turned to research in order to figure out what the hell was wrong with me, and I read a ton of great books on alcohol and addiction this year.

Unlike the widely and blindly accepted media blurbs that red wine is great for your heart, “This Naked Mind” by Annie Grace puts that and other fallacies about alcohol to the test with scientific facts, from credible sources. More than that, she asks us to consider, on our own, beliefs we may have picked up from society that it calms us, that it’s liquid courage, that it makes events more fun. Arrive at your own conclusions.

Of course, not everyone who drinks alcohol develops an issue. Naturally, my next question was, “Why did I?” Next on the docket was “Unbroken Brain” by Maia Szalavitz, who gives some great possible answers to that, and the causes for any addiction. As it turns out, there is no one reason and every person’s need is unique, be it heroin, gambling, or french fries. I think that childhood trauma and genetics are well-known factors, but did you know that IQ is, too? So, each solution is also unique, and ground breaking research suggests that harm prevention, compassion, and acceptance lead the way.

Which brings me to…

This is “me” masks. Sure we all play different roles, like parent, spouse, friend, or co-worker, because we all have many “jobs” in life. The problem for me has been when I’ve imagined that’s who I actually am, and have embellished those roles as “perfect, tireless mother,” or “morally superior wife.” Then, I’ve not only lied to myself and everyone else, but I’ve also made myself a martyr. It’s easy to see how a mother who gives up everything for her kid could become a hapless victim, but staying married to a person whose ethics scare me just makes me a meaner victim. Both drain my self-esteem over time.

Any mask like that is the opposite of authenticity, and it’s the people-pleasing way that so many people fall into addiction. The last book that I read on that subject this year was “Rewired” by Erica Spiegelman, but to me, it was more about living a happy life of my own choosing. I guess that’s the point: if we could all do that, then why would we ever need to self-medicate or self-soothe in the first place? The chapter titles in this book are phrases like honesty, evolution, healthy relationships, and compassion. Thank you, more please. And less of the self-loathing masks that keep all that away from myself.

Black and white thinking. Otherwise known as dualism–that everything is this or that, good or bad, right or wrong, and that I know the absolute difference for myself and everyone else.

I’ve been working on this tome, “Tantra Illuminated,” by Christopher Wallis, for a couple years, but since I started it over and finally finished it cover to cover in 2018, I’m counting it. If you’ve ever wondered, this book goes into great depth about Tantra, specifically Nondual Shaiva Tantra, as explained for the western mind. It’s the first philosophy that analyzes existence and consciousness in a way that makes sense to me, even though my brain was exhausted at first.

Something to help with that: my favorite meditation from last year uses the Magic Mantra, ek ong kar sat gur prasad, which is said in Kundalini Yoga to be so strong that it elevates the self beyond duality. Try it out, if you’re interested, but it comes with a warning.

…AND ONWARD, INTO 2019!

Classic Horror and True Romance

poorthingsA Book Review of Poor Things, by Daniel Barnett

Find it on Amazon HERE.

Anyone who has read my reviews for a while knows that I’m a huge Daniel Barnett fan. I was thrilled to hear that his latest book, Poor Things, might fall into the YA spectrum. Barnett’s writing is pure poetry, and this one is his goriest, grittiest yet. I’d say it rests rather precariously on the young adult line, and it would certainly appeal to adult horrorphiles, because this author never pulls any punches and his hits can be brutal. Poor Things is bloody and frightening, with language not meant for virgin ears. Parents, if you think your little miracle isn’t ready for something along the lines of Stephen King’s scariest tales, this isn’t their book.

For more mature teens: dive in. Poor Things is also beautiful and touching, a poignant coming of age story.

Main character Joel has it coming from the first pages, as the bullying, arrogantly jocular older brother to a wimpy, pimply, book-reading nerd. You’ll know immediately if you can’t handle Poor Things, because Joel loses everything (including that little brother) in a violent car crash before you can even blink. The change in him is swift and soul deep, and we experience this story through his new life as a crippled nobody in a tiny mining town.

This life changing event, this one tragic moment, serves to destroy and create. It’s a common theme with Barnett—tear it all down, build it all back up—and something worth pondering for any young reader, especially in those days before the brain has developed enough to understand consequences. Physically incapacitated by his broken body, Joel’s mind speeds ahead: “Adolescence is an earthquake, one that feels like it will never end while you’re living it, and eventually there comes a choice. You can crawl under your desk and hide, or you can stand up on top of that shaking desk and dance.”

He isn’t the only character I fell in love with, not by far. The heavy metal loving tomboy with a white-blonde buzzcut, Ash, is one of the strongest female supporting characters I’ve met in a long time. She’s cool, she’s smart, she’s tough, and she’s best friends with the biggest dork outcast in school. Ash is all soft underneath, and yes, though Joel is paralyzed from the waist down, there is the possibility of romance. It’s hard to say who is the hero of Poor Things, because throughout most of the book, Ash saves Joel’s derriere again and again. Without her, he could never have…sniff…well, you’ll cry at the end, too.

The town of Honaw itself has enough personality to be thought of as another character–an odd and mildly disturbing one from the beginning. Or, rather, the thing which lies beneath Honaw engineers that creep factor. Okay, that’s it! I can’t say any more or I’ll give it away. Yet, bells and whistles aside, this is a classic monster tale. No monster I’ve ever imagined, however. Only Daniel Barnett could imagine such a strange, sad, dangerous beast from the depths of time, and only this guy could make me love that thing by the end.

This review was written for YA Books Central. Check it out HERE to find out more about the book and the author.

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Beauty and Hope Delivered by Disaster and Monsters

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A Book Review of The Threat Below, by Jason Latshaw

Find it on Amazon HERE.

Mountaintop. Humanity’s last stand, after near obliteration from the Threat Below, by which Jason Latshaw’s epic book is titled. The humbled hundred or so inhabitants of Mountaintop, called the Kith, rely on legend mixed with history of the Apriori, their ancestors who once ruled the earth. The Kith are walled into their home in the sky by fear and the persistent Cloudline that obscures vision of Down Below. Their world is meager and desperate, their society stratified and rigid. In the first few pages, a hard line is drawn between main character Icelyn, the prissy, intelligent Cognate daughter of the Kith’s leader, and Adorane, her Veritas best friend and possible brave, brawny love interest. Segregation and prejudice are accepted here as the way for a fragile existence to survive.

Not thrive. Imagine the peak of a mountain at the top of the world, after civilization has fled a deadly, mysterious plague and the planet has probably been flooded by rising oceans. The air is thin. Scrubby trees are more like bushes. Acorn cakes are a staple. Later in the book, Icelyn finds a comb Down Below and she marvels at it. Has she never brushed her hair? You’ll be amazed when you find out what ultrabears and ultralions are. Yes, Mountaintop is the kind of place that, should humanity survive, what’s the point? It’s clear this place is only half of the story. Almost immediately, Icelyn and Adorane wander beyond a rotting, three-hundred-year-old barrier between the apparent safety of Mountaintop and the rumored certain death of Down Below, and there is no doubt about where our heroine and her beau will end up.

But Latshaw keeps his readers guessing right along with the sheltered, pampered Icelyn. The mystery is compelling, even darn right frightening, and each revelation along the way is worth it, not rushed or predictable. In fact, every time I thought I’d figured it out—what the Threatbelows are, or how humanity met its fate, or even who Icelyn herself is—I was surprised by Latshaw’s imagination. He speaks through his vivid characters, some that I adored and others I’d like to choke, and the action happens in their choices, dialogue, and thoughts. Whether the cowardly Kith leader is squirming, the devoted and fearless Eveshone is rescuing Icelyn again, or the constantly shifting morals of Torrain are playing out, this world is revealed by those living in it.

My favorite part, however, is that Latshaw isn’t afraid to delve deeper than his own story. Though fantastical and unique, his world bears enough resemblance to ours to stoke fear and tickle conscience. Gun violence in Mountaintop mirrors the debate over our right to bear arms, especially when these fictitious leaders are using guns to proliferate fear and violence as a means to control the population. One of them has found an ancient text and quotes Jenny Holzer, “Fear is the most elegant weapon. Your hands are never messy. Threatening bodily harm is crude. Work instead on minds & beliefs, play insecurities like a piano.” Latshaw is good at turning a phrase to grab attention, and we find essential truths in gentle statements as well: “So much of life is lived looking away from each other, afraid to face a person as they really are, deflecting feelings and ignoring vital moments.” Or, not so gentle: “They live in a world of magic, but take it all as a matter of course. They didn’t realize it, but they were Gods.” This last is spoken of the extinct Apriori, when Icelyn sees their cellphones and flat screens in a memory. Gods who invented their own demise? Nervous laugher from the crowd…

The Threat Below would be equally enjoyed by both genders, with a strong, admirable heroine (feminine and regal, with very little whining) and plenty of action and violence (gruesome, though not gratuitous). Latshaw’s writing is top-notch, and teens ready to move onto more adult literature should be able to handle the language and the length of this book. Adults will love it just as much, because there are many layers of understanding in The Threat Below, sort of like a Disney movie that is fun for kids but only truly understood by their parents. Not that this book is an easy fairytale read, and don’t be looking for a sweet ending tied up in a pretty package. The journey is worth it, though, and you’ll love every step. Latshaw delivers beauty and hope in a way you’d never expect.

This review was written for YA Books Central. Check it out HERE to find out more about the book and the author.

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Calling For Book Review Submissions!

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To all my author friends and anyone who loves YA fiction, I am happy to announce my new position as a Staff Reviewer at YA Books Central!

This is a wonderful opportunity for indie authors to have their books reviewed right alongside traditionally published authors. We’re excited to bring some much deserved recognition to the indie scene.

So, send your work in, pronto! Here’s the skinny:

YA Books Central indie review requests are now open. Please send ONE pitch letter per book to indies@yabookscentral.com for consideration. A pitch letter should include the book’s title, genre, publisher (if any), link to Amazon listing (if available), release date, synopsis, and contact person’s name and email. If we think our staff reviewers would enjoy your book, we’ll contact you with instructions. Most of the time we will request ebook ARCs, but occasionally we will request print copies to be included in our monthly book haul video, which goes out to our readers and all of our staff reviewers.

Please note that not all requested books are reviewed, and some books might be reviewed several months after we’ve requested a review copy. Please do not send more than one pitch email per book. You will not receive a reply unless your book is requested.
While you wait, we encourage you to add your Indie book to our database here http://www.yabookscentral.com/add-books there is a $3.99 charge to add a book (even the publishers pay to list books with the site so that’s not just for indies).

A Book Review of Dawn of the Rebellion, by Michelle Lynn

 

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Buy it on Amazon HERE. Visit the author’s website HERE.

Dawn Nolan is not someone you would think of as heroine material. She’s scared of thunder, scared of boys, shy and mousy. Her sister Gabby really doesn’t fit the bill either. She get’s pinched for lifting a bracelet within the first couple chapters. Drew is a spoiled rich kid, too good looking to trust or believe in. But author Michelle Lynn gets her dystopian world up and running in record time. Her characters act just as fast, and we get to know them through their choices and reactions to an unforgiving environment.

We quickly realize the world as we know it has all but shut down, civilization hanging on by the thread of strict military control. America is nothing but a legend, ruined by draught, famine, disease and war. England is a brutal empire and punishes its citizens by sending them to slave colonies. Remember that stolen bracelet? I’m sure you can guess what happens to Gabby, and why Dawn decides to become her unlikely savior. The story is quickly transplanted to the mysterious colonies, and it doesn’t take long to understand where those are located. Turns out there are a few Americans left after all.

Lynn delivers what could seem like a complicated backstory with efficiency, only giving us the information we need, then letting our imaginations fill in the rest. I mean, who could really be too shocked that this scenario could one day be our fates? All that’s needed is the term “global warming” at this point for us to understand quite a lot of backstory on our own. I’m so thankful that, instead of dwelling on the details, Lynn dives right into her own reality, and we’re ready for it. Characters’ personalities bloom and details of this new world trickle out steadily, as Dawn and Drew get on with the business of rescuing Gabby.

This author is not afraid to throw in a twist you never expected, and it’s a harsh world she’s created–just when you really connect with your favorite character, you might have cause to worry about his or her fate! By the conclusion, the theme of an incredible bond between sisters comes to the fore, a development I liked as much as I came to like the two sisters. Layers of revelation and an emerging deeper plot make this book an excellent start to a promising series. I’ll definitely continue with book two–I’m not sure I have a choice!

–Sarah Wathen

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Michelle loves connecting with readers. Check out her social media outlets and blog on her website, http://www.michellelynnauthor.com. Click HERE to read our interview about her new release, Choices, due out this month!

Michelle is a contributing member of YAAR, Young Adult Author Rendezvous. Find out more: http://yaarendezvous.com

A Book Review of King of Fools, by BL Pride

eBook King of Fools

(Buy it on Amazon HERE. Visit the author’s website.)

Luke is one of those guys who is dangerous to fall in love with. I always do, invariably. But, I’ve known too many Luke’s too often in my life and he’s the kind of guy that breaks hearts as easily as snuffing out cigarettes. He’s a little lost and a little wounded, made even more alluring by a pretty face, careless hair, and a cool demeanor. He’s cool enough in the beginning as to be the kind of dick you might want to slap in a bar after you’ve just found him with another woman. But that’s okay with me, because since King of Fools is written in Luke’s point of view, I get to be the dick. That’s one of the things I love most about this book—being able to step into the shoes of my favorite kind of guy to love and hate. And the plot thickens from there…

You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but Luke has experienced an accident that brought him too close to death to ever be the same. Mentally, possibly physically, definitely spiritually. You see, something followed him back from the beyond. Something cold, vaguely needy and slightly terrifying, and from the beginning I’m not sure whether I should be turned on or repulsed by that something. Luke isn’t sure either. In fact, he’s trying very hard to ignore it and pretend that he wasn’t in an accident at all. Luke’s accident is only touched on delicately at first. The author does give us the juicy details later in the book, and they are worth waiting for. Having been in a death defying accident myself, and perhaps crossed over to the beyond for a brief moment like Luke, I love the way that BL Pride handles this life (or death) experience. She nailed it. But we aren’t fully initiated until close to the end.

As soon as Luke arrives in the Farthest Islands, however— a place legendary for the sheer number of hauntings reported and ghostly creatures observed there—I knew that the something that is “always with him” is going to make some kind of move. The thing that followed him back from the beyond and this haunted place have to be related. But this is the beauty of BL Pride’s imagination and the journey she weaves the reader through. Her tales are unique, her stories so finely layered, that I can never tell what the heck she’s up to. And the journey is possibly more beautiful than the desire to know. I don’t like to rush through her books—even though I always finish them in a few days, since I can’t put them down—because her language is so expressive, her emotional landscape so lush, that I enjoy every word. Imagine seductive mixed with haunted, with a side of beautiful horror and you’ve got what BL Pride is best at.

You will find some answers by the end of King of Fools, but at the same time glimpse the iceberg lurking beneath the surface with all its crystalline, relentless power. You will feel satisfied, but left wanting more and sort of scared by what might come next. Kind of like Luke, poor thing. There is something undeniably attractive about seeing the girl who stole his soul twist it too, like rubbernecking at a car crash on the highway, but the aloof cool guy weighs heavy on my heart by the end of this book. I feel his frustration, I know his desire, and I admit I would call myself Queen of Fools in his place, because I probably would’ve done much the same. Oh, Luke. I can’t wait to see what he does next, or more to the point, how he reacts when the next thing—the next ungodly heavenly, ugly gorgeous thing—is thrown at him.

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Check out BL Pride’s website www.blpride.com to learn more about their work and follow their blog. Subscribe to receive a free short story and stay up to date with new releases and special offers. 

novaprofileIt’s quite hard to write something unambiguous about B. L. Pride. She was born in Maribor, Slovenia, went to a particular high school, chose a university that seemed more or less interesting, and now she does completely different things. She’s a teacher and a frelancer. She’s got two different men and four children. She’s full of opposites but has one great passion – books. Confusing? She’s actually an avatar of two best friends and a symbol of their lives’ project.

When the author Barbara Pristovnik finished her first novel that was originally written in Slovene, she never dreamed of sharing her lunacy with the rest of the planet, but the other half of the team Lea Dežman put her foot down and decided to translate it into English. Two absolute beginners were swirled into the overwhelming world of self-publishing and took their Sunday coffee dates to a completely different level. Addiction is the result and at the same time it is merely the beginning. Slovene became secondary, and The Farthest Island series began emerging in English, and a new world was created.

Read BL Pride’s guest post Writing: A Universal Language of Passion.

A Book Review of Ariel, by Fia Essen

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(Buy it here on Amazon. Visit the author’s website. Find it on Goodreads.)

Ariel Morton has hit rock bottom. Or, is it just her attitude that has? Well, she’s recently lost her dream job, lost her driver license, gotten dumped by the love of her life (who was also her best friend). She lives in a hovel, has no friends, feels outcast from her own family, and is in credit card debt that seems impossible to get out of. She’s made a few mistakes and has told a few lies, but she finds herself trapped in a prison inordinate to the mildness of her foibles. Ah yes, the quarter-life crisis. This is where we enter the story.

On the first page of the book we’re introduced to the mysterious Muse Agency, a private—very private—consulting company reported to have worked miracles in Ariel’s hometown of Singapore. Details are transferred strictly via whisper network and shrouded in something close to legend. This seems to be the plot in store for us: The Muse Agency is going to change Ariel’s life. That’s far from the case.

In fact, her life does swing a hairpin turn by the end of the book, but  only because she finally learns to steer. Very little actually changes for Ariel on the outside. Sure, there is a new love interest (expect something closer to Emma than Fifty Shades of Grey), and that credit card debt is taken care of in a surprising twist. But mostly, the agency forces Ariel to scrutinize her life and make the uncomfortable changes she’s been avoiding for years. We suspect Ariel’s changes must happen from within pretty early on in the novel, but it’s still fun to watch it all play out. Her dry sense of humor and resistance to conformity makes for an entertaining soul journey.

The most interesting part of the book, and one that I thought unique, is Fia Essen’s way of bringing the world of the expat into focus. This is a microcosm of which I had no real understanding and it’s a fascinating life. Essen’s own experiences make Ariel’s life as an expat seem realistic and authentic. I call Singapore her “hometown” in the beginning of this review, but that idea isn’t something she really understands. Born in one country, with heritage in two others, Ariel has globe-trotted for most of her life; first, because of her parents’ careers, but later because constant travel was what she knew. A peek into this lifestyle makes Ariel worth the read on it’s own.

If you’re looking for hardcore realism in which main characters are killed off, x-rated scenes abound, and everyone is generally unhappy, this is not your book. If you believe in that light at the end of the tunnel, and maybe hope there is one at the end of your own road, you’ll enjoy Ariel.

“Catchpenny catches the very essence of the teen spirit.”

And that is the opinion of a licensed mental health counselor! Imagine my joy, when I read her Amazon review–especially the way she describes my main character, Meg, as “a beautiful blend of just the right amount of spunk, softness, kindness, insecurity and stays true to her very nature and spirit.”

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And then she thanks ME: “Thanks for doing all the teen girls justice and getting it right!”

I definitely should be thanking HER, because it was so important for me to get Meg right. My editor Racquel Henry was constantly reminding me about “word choice” and warning me if I started to “lose the teenage voice.” But most of all, I was afraid that Meg was too real for people to stomach. She’s not a sweet little angel who says all the right things and follows all the rules, and it was important for me to show her authentically, warts and all. She bucks the rules, gets in trouble, and is very sexually uninhibited. I do have a warning for parental discretion in the beginning of the book, but still…

To hear from a professional that works with teens on a daily basis, who thinks it’s “refreshing to see an author portray the raw emotions that teen girls feel and struggle with on a day to day basis” ?

That is truly rewarding.

Thank you, Sally High, LMHC!

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Read it for $0.99 on Amazon HERE.

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