Something Like… a Book Review

I started reading Jay Bell’s Something Like Summer on June 11 and I finished it that same day, which for me is quite remarkable. I had searched through the gay fiction category because I had questions in my mind as I was writing my next novel where a young teenage boy begins to question his sexuality. Certain things were happening in my character’s life and I wasn’t sure, given his age, if these things would seem shocking or within reason. So I wanted to find a book that portrayed the coming of age of a gay teen – written as literary fiction and not erotica –  about what experiences are normal for boys just coming to realize they are gay and at what age certain acts begin to take place.

Something Like Summer had many good reviews and seemed to fit everything I was looking for. So, I bought it. As soon as I started reading, I was immediately sucked into the story of Benjamin Bentley. He is such a well-developed character that I’m not convinced he isn’t real. He is witty, passionate, quick to act in ways that seem brave but are actually rooted in lack of restraint, self-aware, and determined to be happy one way or another.

Benjamin has been openly gay since he was 14 at a time when this was a rarity (mid 1990s). The book begins in the summer before Ben’s Junior year in high school. He encounters a new guy in his neighborhood who takes daily runs through the park. Ben makes a point of secretly watching (stalking) him. But when school begins, it becomes evident that Tim Wyman is not gay and he is quickly becoming friends with the people who bully Ben. Most boys would give up, but Ben is tenacious and willing to take risks which might pay off in the long run (or might get him into a world of hurt).

The only problem is that Tim Wyman isn’t as willing to take risks, perhaps because his family isn’t nearly as loving as Ben’s. Tim has been raised very differently, the consequences of which neither boy at age 16 can fully appreciate. They each push the other to change in ways that would make it easier on themselves, not the other. The result is disastrous but completely understandable given their circumstances.

As a reader, I wanted things to work out for the two of them. I wanted it to be obvious and easy because that’s what we all want when it comes to love. But nothing about this story was obvious or easy. But it still kept me reading, not necessarily because of the love story, but because I wanted to know what would happen to Ben.

The Something Like… series is written more like a collection of biographies than a collection of love stories. Yes, romance happens, sex happens, break ups and patch ups happen. But Jay Bell writes about the lives of very distinct, realistic characters, which span a decade or more. Each book in the series is about a character which has already been introduced in the other books.

In Something Like Summer, I wasn’t sure if I really liked Tim Wyman or if I believed him. Early on in the book, Tim mentions leaving Kansas after a girl falsely accuses him of raping her. As a woman, I tend to doubt men who make this claim and see them as potential rapists. I wanted something to come out in the story to reassure me that Tim wasn’t capable of doing such a thing. But, Tim is revealed in Something Like Summer to have moments of aggression. I just never was sure, even by the ending.

So, after finishing Something Like Summer, I picked up Something Like Winter which is the story of Tim Wyman’s life as he comes to terms with his sexuality. Something Like Winter begins in Kansas and directly addresses the rape accusation, which is revealed to be a completely false  accusation by a very manipulative girl. I was relieved because that meant I could trust Tim a little more. But generally speaking, I don’t like it when authors portray rape accusations as lies because in the real world already places so much doubt on legitimate claims of rape. But, my activism aside, I realize that this *can* actually happen in real life and perhaps is more likely to happen to someone like Tim with the kinds of people who find their way into his circles. Tim has a big problem when it comes to figuring out who deserves his friendship and attention and who does not.

Both books were very good, but there was a lot of overlap. Most of Tim’s story I already knew from reading Something Like Summer. But what I didn’t know about was Tim’s character. In Something Like Winter, I came to deeply understand Tim and how his experiences caused him to act the way he did. I enjoyed seeing Ben through Tim’s eyes, and I found out what Tim had been up to in the “missing years” of Something Like Summer.

Now I will probably read Something Like Autumn, which is the story of Jace. I already know how Jace’s story will end, but I do not know how it began.

Jay Bell writes in a very fast-paced, candid, and affectionate way about growing up gay and finding love. I enjoy his stories while I read them and cannot stop thinking about the characters when I’m done.

If this sounds like something you’d enjoy, you can get Something Like Summer for free right now. Maybe Jay Bell has it permanently set as free, I don’t know, but it’s worth so much more than that.

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Review: The Road Back from Broken

I finally got out of my blue state long enough to leave a review for The Road Back from Broken by Carrie Morgan. Some of you have already heard about this book from personal recommendations I sent out soon after reading it in January. Here is the book description from Amazon followed by the review I left:

RoadBackfromBroken

Healing from war is a battle of its own…

Four months after surviving an IED blast in Afghanistan, Army sergeant Jacob Fitzgerald has recovered from his physical injuries but his invisible wounds continue to fester. Devastated by the loss of his friend Peterson, a gifted medic who was killed in the IED attack, Fitz turns to alcohol to dull his pain. But his solace proves short-lived when a DUI crash leaves Fitz one screw-up away from a court martial and he comes home to find his wife Jenn packing her bags.

Desperate to save his marriage and his Army career, Fitz is befriended by Remy, a young Army chaplain haunted by demons of his own. Fitz leans on Remy for support when sobriety proves a mixed blessing, bringing the clarity of mind needed to reconnect with his family while unleashing a flood of vivid, searing flashbacks. As the haunting memories of the IED attack and his fallen comrade send Fitz into a spiral of anguish, he must choose between numbing the pain and losing both his family and his career, or coming to terms with his role in the death of his friend.

From the description, I expected to enjoy The Road Back from Broken. I had waited for months for its publication with high hopes that the unique characters would carry me along with them on an emotional journey, and it delivered just that. But I was surprised by the great detail Carrie Morgan incorporated into her storytelling. The amount of research she put into writing The Road was an unexpected gift to me as a reader. I learned a lot about the military, both past and present. Don’t let that put you off if you aren’t into military novels because The Road does not exactly fit into that category. It carves out its own category by incorporating many, which might be evident by the diverse reviewers here. No matter which community you are in, there is a truth in The Road relative to your life. All of these different strands of interest weave through the story effortlessly without feeling forced, which is how life really is. I recommend this book often and with confidence that it will be equally loved by others.

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Book Review: Hemlock Veils

I read Hemlock Veils by Jennie Davenport a few months ago, but it still frequently comes to mind. Now that October is here and everyone has an appetite for stories about beasts, I thought I’d finally get around to writing a review on my blog.

Here’s the basic info from Amazon (cover and description):

Hemlock Veils Book CoverWhen Elizabeth Ashton escapes her damaging city life and finds herself in the remote town of Hemlock Veils, Oregon, she is smitten by its quaint mystery; but the surrounding forest holds an enchantment she didn’t think existed, and worse, a most terrifying monster. The town claims it vicious and evil, but Elizabeth suspects something is amiss. Even with its enormous, hairy frame, gruesome claws, and knife-like teeth, the monster’s eyes speak to her: wolf-like and ringed with gold, yet holding an awareness that can only be human. That’s when Elizabeth knows she is the only one who can see the struggling soul trapped inside, the soul to which she is moved.

Secretly, Elizabeth befriends the beast at night, discovering there’s more to his story and that the rising of the sun transforms him into a human more complex than his beastly self. Elizabeth eventually learns that his curse is unlike any other and that a single murderous act is all that stands between him and his freedom. Though love is not enough to break his curse, it may be the only means by which the unimaginable can be done: sacrifice a beauty for the beast.

I really enjoyed this novel. It has romance, mystery, suspense, and a scary beast. The characters are a blend of good and bad in various proportions which makes them believable. Their backstories mesh well with what happens in Hemlock Veils; the mysteries of the past and present come together as more is revealed throughout the book.

Jennie Davenport is very good at creating realistic settings. When I remember this book, the images of the forest are what usually first come to mind. But that isn’t to imply the storyline isn’t equally memorable. It’s easy to get invested in what will happen next. I think readers will find themselves guessing with mixed results. They will be partially correct, but there are a satisfying number of surprises in store.

Some readers have said Hemlock Veils is a modern interpretation of Beauty and the Beast, but I do not think that comparison holds up. The only thing the story has in common with Beauty and the Beast is that there is a Beast in this story who is not quite what it seems. Only the new girl in town sees it differently. Beyond that, the store stands on its own. But you can form your own opinion when you read it, and you should read it.

Now is the perfect time when the weather is getting cool, the Halloween decorations are going up, and the days are getting shorter. If you like a bit of danger and the supernatural mixed in with your romance, you will not be disappointed in Hemlock Veils.

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

Julie Roberts Towe is the author of these four books. Click to view them at Amazon.

Book Review of ROMY: Book I of the 2250 Saga

Romy

I finished the book Romy: Book I of the 2250 Saga by Nirina Stone last night after just a few days. That’s unusual for me, which speaks to how well written it is. I took a moment to type up a review this morning and wanted to share it with you.

First, here is the author’s description of the book:

In the year 2250, life in Apex is built on classification systems. The rich Prospo live a lavish life in skyscrapers. Poor Citizens live underground and Soren terrorists are a threat that no one wants to contend with, least of all young, healthy women that are used solely for breeding.

Twenty year old Romy believes she’s done everything right to avoid being put on the Soren auction block. She’s studied hard and attained her robotic certification to secure an enviable job in Prospo City, but when her time comes, instead of the coveted ‘B’ classification, Romy’s status leaves her vulnerable to the Soren terrorists.

Follow Romy as she strives to live the life she’s worked so hard to attain and learns the truth about her name, her past, and her world.

I would rate it 4 out of 5 stars. Here is my review:

ROMY is a story set in the future after a catastrophic event destroyed most of humanity hundreds of years before. Now civilization has split into three groups, the Prospo (wealthy people who live in highrises and on the Moon and Mars), Citizens (live mostly underground, often hired by the Prospo as servants), and Sorens (a group of people reported to be terrorists by the Prospo).

The world building itself is excellent and probably the strongest aspect of this book. Wanting to know about this world and its societies was the main motivation for me to continue reading. If you like to explore ideas about our future world, I think you’ll enjoy ROMY. It delves into not only landscape, but also psychology and sociology, politics and propaganda, truth and lies.

There were areas where the book fell a little short for me, but some readers will find these to be positives:

ROMY (the story) did not focus much on Romy’s emotions. I felt like I was skimming the surface of her experiences, looking from the outside in. I never felt anticipation for her actions, but accepted the validity of the reasons given to me. This may appeal to readers preferring a story not be sentimental. But if you really enjoy laughing and crying with a character, you will miss that aspect here.

I tend to be skeptical, so finding sci-fi that works for me isn’t easy. ROMY kept me in the world. Most of the scenarios were plausible. Revelations made sense. I didn’t hang up on anything which kept me from enjoying the story except for one thing: certain women were lied to about being infertile. I think there should have been an added explanation about how sexual beings could exist and not realize the truth about their fertility, or how this lie gained such traction.

Which leads to the third negative (but possibly a positive for some): The romance was minimal. I think it would have worked better if Romy was not romantically involved at all as opposed to having her so superficially involved. She kisses someone for reasons she doesn’t know. And then for the next year or more she just sometimes kisses him more but it goes no further. It wasn’t believable and felt like it was just added because someone said the book needed romance. The book didn’t need it, and it wasn’t really romance.

Again, if you like sci-fi books strong on world building and politics, not overly sexual or violent, and not so sentimental, I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Books by Julie Roberts Towe

Just When I Was Ready to Quit Writing

Something happened Friday that deserves mentioning in a blog post. It was an example of so many truths which are important for writers and readers alike. And even though, just today, I read a post advising authors NOT to talk about how hard it is to sell their books, I’m going to write this anyway.

Writing a good book does not, by itself, translate into many sales. So the idea that low sales imply a book is terrible, therefor authors shouldn’t mention it, is problematic. Sure, you shouldn’t walk up to potential buyers and say, “My book sales are shit, please buy one.” That would be terrible advice. But right here, right now, I’m talking to authors, readers, and writers. I’m not trying to sell you anything (though I’m not going to be offended if you buy something anyway.) So here it is.

Last week was the one year anniversary of the publication of my first book. I had officially been an author for one year. And despite having four books on the market, all available at multiple booksellers, and despite those books having received no negative feedback, they were simply not selling well.

Last week, for the first time since becoming an author, my sales chart on Amazon flat lined. That means, for an entire month, I had ZERO book downloads. Sure, I had stopped marketing my books because of some things that happened this summer. (You can read about that here.) But, it’s still an unsettling feeling to see a straight green line instead of spikes of red.

In addition to sales flat-lining, I had run into some snags with the book I am currently working on. Mostly, they were problems all in my head, brought on by a combination of unfortunate events which I won’t go into. Suffice it to say that I just didn’t feel up to writing the story. I didn’t feel like I was the person to do it justice. I also didn’t feel like my current works would make enough money to pay for the cover of the next one. I had no confidence the current book would sell enough copies to be worth the effort in writing it, even if the final product was awesome.

Then this buzzing insect of doubt multiplied. I began to doubt if I was a good writer at all. I thought maybe it was pointless to keep writing, even if only for a handful of people. I wondered if my stories were truly capable of helping anyone. Were readers really understanding what I was trying to say or did my words fall short? I felt completely disconnected, like my books were calling out into the crowd and no one was answering.

Last Thursday, I contemplated quitting. I thought, “I’ll quit writing. Instead, I can help my daughter set up her ebay account. We can sell vintage doodads and make a couple hundred dollars a month.” I had let myself settle into this idea of changing my daily writing routine, giving up, letting it all go. Maybe I’d sew some patchwork dogs or quilts or whatever. It was depressing, but felt necessary.

I didn’t say any of that aloud. I never would do that before my decision was firmly made. I have always jumped into things with both feet and given it everything I have until I’m drained and empty. I don’t beg to be filled up if it isn’t happening on its own. If it doesn’t happen, I just walk away and never look back. I am never going to say, “You have to do xyz for me or else!” No. I prefer honest achievements, not pity money.

I only tell you now about how I was feeling because something happened to change my mind. I am not going to quit writing.

Friday, I was eating pizza at home with my kids when my phone vibrated to signal I had a notification. It was an email from Openbooks.com saying my book, Silencer, had been reviewed. I set the phone down and finished eating my slice of pizza despite a lump in my throat. I knew in my heart the review, good or bad, would either solidify my choice to quit writing or complicate the matter. I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be complicated. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read the review at all.

After taking a sip of my tea to wash down the last bite of pizza. I picked up my phone and clicked through to see the review. (You can also read the entire thing here, but first stick with me for this tale.) I noticed it was written by another author, but one I had never had contact with at all. He definitely owed me nothing. If anything, I was competition to him.

I read the beginning sentences of the review:

I downloaded this book on a Friday morning expecting to finish it next week but I made the mistake of reading the first couple of chapters and could not put it down, so I ended up finishing it in a day. In other words, it’s a page-turner. I had to know how things would end up for Rhoda, Ben, and Nanshe because I started caring about the characters ….

I stopped reading and covered my mouth to hold back the sob I was about to make while I hurried into my bedroom and shut the door so my kids wouldn’t see my cry. I crawled into bed and cried harder than I’ve cried in months if not years. I couldn’t even read the rest of the review for trying to process the conflicting emotions I was feeling. I had felt so alone, defensive, exhausted from the pressures of self-promotion, doubtful about my message or my right to spread it. I had felt hopeless, alien, and nearly mute despite the hundreds of thousands of words I’d published. I was terrified to pick up my phone and finish reading the review, but I did. Here it is in its entirety:

Passionately-crafted, intense and fast-paced novella by Stanley Laine

I downloaded this book on a Friday morning expecting to finish it next week but I made the mistake of reading the first couple of chapters and could not put it down, so I ended up finishing it in a day. In other words, it’s a page-turner. I had to know how things would end up for Rhoda, Ben, and Nanshe because I started caring about the characters and despite Rhoda and Ben’s personal struggles, their endearing nurturing instincts trumped everything, a common thread they both share and recognize in each other, so I needed to know what happened to them. Julie Roberts Towe is a really gifted writer, she has a special way of drawing you into the scene where you feel like you are in the setting with the characters and you want to speak to them or act on their behalf. I think she could do wonders even with a more mundane storyline. This is a very fast moving book because it is a novella so it’s designed to be that way, and while it fits in the psychological, historical and drama genres it is also an action story, so expect a quick moving plot and some intense uncomfortable-ness. It’s meant to bother you, and it should bother you. I’ll just say without throwing out spoilers that from the moment the dryer is turned off I became pissed off at this story, because it was right about that point that I fell into the trap of wanting a sappy ending, but instead I got what the author intended, to show the desperation of the situation and its wild outcomes.

I could barely breathe. I know, at this point, you non-writers may not understand why. This may seem like the surest sign of my mental breakdown, but it was not a breakdown. It was the kind of tears a person sheds when they see their spouse return from war. It was the release of pent up fears that can only be let loose when the danger has passed.

I cried until my pillow was wet, and I left my face buried in it to cry more. The reviewer understood what I was trying to do. My words alone, not my book promotion or my sales pitch, but the story itself and only the story got my meaning across. Every single nuance I hoped to add was noted and appreciated. My message was received and valued. It was *everything*, EVERYTHING, ever.y.thing!

It was, ultimately, a validation of my purpose.

It is now Sunday, and I still get tears in my eyes when I think about how close I was to quitting.

Readers, there are books you love. And I am 100% cool with those books not being mine. I’ve had many people say to me, “I could not finish your book because it was too difficult emotionally”, and I get it. But, there *are* books you love so, so much. If you feel that way about a book, please tell the author. Please, please, please. Most of us have no chance (or desire) of ever becoming wealthy off our work. But we do it anyway for one reason: to connect with you. Our books are meant to be read, enjoyed, felt, thought about; all of which are invisible things to us unless you tell us.

Sometimes a single, sincere clap from the audience is enough to help the musician perform the next ballad.

And authors, you don’t always know the effect your book is having. We can convince ourselves of anything, so maybe we should relax and give things time.

More than anything, this week has taught me that maybe I’m an okay author, but I could certainly do better as a reader. I am very behind on promoting the books I have loved this year. Look for some posts about them soon.

And thank you, Stanley Laine, wherever (whoever) you are for not keeping your thoughts to yourself. ❤

Book Reviews: Abuse in Fiction

I promised I’d weed through the gigillion books at Amazon and find a few gems of self-published work. I’m a slow and meticulous reader, so in no way will this blog turn into a book review site. But, I do hope to highlight some books worth mentioning as I find them.

My book series, Winter Seedlings, deals with the effects of childhood sexual abuse. So, for the first chunk of reviews, I decided to read books touching on similar themes.

I’ll start with The Goldfish Diaries by Winona Teague.

goldfishdiariesThe Goldfish Diaries is an unusual book in that it deals with the very heavy subject of domestic violence in a way that is accessible to teens. Combined with the fact that the narrator is a goldfish, perhaps you’ll assume this book is too childish for adults to enjoy. But, you would be mistaken. The goldfish is like a fly on the wall, seeing everything that happens in the house and trying to make sense of it. As explained by this description of this book on Amazon: “Through the eyes of their long-forgotten goldfish we come to know the Havens family. Tom: the boy with the broken heart. Millicent: the little girl with the broken teacup. Mrs. Havens: the woman with the broken bones. And Mr. Havens: the man who gave them to her. ”
The Havens family goes through so much, but Tom is the one being pulled in all directions. I empathized with every character Winona Teague created, maybe not so much with Mr. Havens, but I understood why he thought the way he did. Though self-published, The Goldfish Diaries is very well written, believable, unforgettable.

The next book on the list is It’s Not Always About Freud by Adele Scott.

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Adele Scott has a Masters degree in psychology and trained as a child psychotherapist. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand. This is her first novel, self-published, and impressive. It is not, however, about a cat.
The story centers around the life of a therapist as well as a situation with one of her clients. I’ll post the Amazon description here:

Thirty-seven year-old psychotherapist Laura Flight works in a mental health clinic and appears to be better at solving other people’s problems rather than her own. She drinks too much, is not woman enough to dump feckless ex-partner, Brad, and is finding it harder to drown out the sound of her ticking biological clock.
Then an attractive new client, with connections to the clinic’s manager, walks into her therapy room. The unfolding events reach a crisis, which unexpectedly jeopardizes Laura’s position in the clinic and inevitably forces her to take charge of her life.
Laura learns the biggest battle she has to face, is the battle with herself.

There is no mention of abuse in the description; and though it is not the central theme of the book, it does happen. Because the author, Adele Scott, is a therapist in real life, this book is full of clinical-speak. I actually enjoyed that and appreciated that she didn’t dumb it down for those of us not in the field. A plus for me was that by the end of the book, I had learned some things about psychotherapy and Auckland.
I hope Adele Scott will write more books. But in the meantime, if this sounds like something you would enjoy, here is the link to It’s Not Always About Freud.

This list is in order from most tame to most graphic. So I am going to put my Winter Seedlings books right here. Most of you have already heard my plugs for them. I’ll just quickly say that they both deal with childhood sexual abuse, mostly the aftermath and recovery. They are both intensely emotional stories focusing more on the psychological effects than the assaults themselves. Both have diverse LGBTQ characters. Each is a complete story within itself, no cliffhanger at the end, just solid unforgettable endings.

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And last on the list, yet first in terms of emotional impact is Crush by Laura Susan Johnson.

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This book is not a light read. Be warned: you will not just cry, you will sob. Laura Susan Johnson does not shy away from describing atrocious acts of abuse, nor does she shy away from the details of the physical, emotional, psychological, and sexual effects of that abuse. She is a nurse in real life, and in many regards, the author has seen a lot and is not squeamish. I would almost categorize Crush as horror, but I don’t think the author wrote any of this to sensationalize abuse. She is not trying to glorify the pain. The book is intense and there’s no way to read it and not feel changed by it.

The Amazon description is: “Raw, graphic, candid portrait of two young gay men whose love affair is deeply affected by the scars they sustained from childhood sexual abuse. Tammy and Jamie are soul mates, but their love is thwarted for years by bad timing, fear of ridicule, and the damage that lingers long after childhood.”

Again, here is a link to Crush by Laura Susan Johnson.

I hope this is helpful to those wanting to support indie-authors. I’ll continue to post recommendations as I find gems worth mentioning. I am currently reading a few sci-fi novels. I’ll get back to you on those, possibly in March.

(Follow my blog for updates!)