Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Shall We Dance? debuts January 28th.
Shall We Dance? started with a cute premise; a woman getting to know her two birth sisters purchases a dance studio and moves in with them above the studio. As she’s getting to know them, she’s simultaneously falling in love with her hot cop student.
Unfortunately, the plot spiraled off into a side plot that took away most of the attention from the main romance: the hot cop’s sister is hard at work overcoming her PTSD from a gang rape when she realizes she’s being stalked by one of her previous attackers. Normally I’m a big fan of strong subplots in romance, but this was such a large part of the book that it often felt like the romance plot between the MC and the cop had been entirely abandoned. Wooden dialogue did not help, nor a host of missed opportunities for good scenes. One of my romance pet peeves is when the author skips over important life events, and this book missed several, namely the proposal and the wedding. Surely I am not the only one out there who thinks it is absolutely senseless to gloss over a wedding when the entire point of the book is supposed to be the romance? Anyone with me on this? Because I see it allllll the time.
Anyway, Shall We Dance? remains very surface-level from start to finish; it never got past lukewarm for me, whether in the character relationships, the chemistry, or the plot. There will of course be sequels to this book–romance authors adore their big families!–but I won’t be picking up the next in the series.
The twenty-sixth chapter of The Gold in the Dark is out! New chapters, complete with brilliant chapter illustrations courtesy of Ally Grosvenor, release every other Sunday at 11 AM EST (and many times earlier)! You can get started on the series with Chapter One right here or on Wattpad.
Work (the real, boring kind) has been the theme of the past couple weeks. It’s the busy season at my job, and I’m just happy to get home every day and curl up with my dog, a glass of wine, and season three of True Blood. So I won’t say I’m off my game exactly, but I’m just kind of waiting out the days at this point until things calm down again work-wise and my creative well refills.
Nevertheless, my WIP is still ever on my mind, and I was really happy this past week that my husband took a look at my last few chapters and gave me some much needed feedback. My writing process and writing brain both work really well with an alpha reader, and my husband just so happens to be an excellent one; he’s forever finding the plot holes in TV shows and picking apart character motivations. It means we’re not True Blood buddies (alas), but that’s a small price to pay for having a strong manuscript. 😛
Thank you to NetGalley and MIRA Books for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Good Girls Lie debuted December 30th.
Good Girls Lie from start to finish felt like a book in conflict with itself. It’s not being marketed as YA, but many of the main characters are teenagers–though their dialogue speaks otherwise. The book is set at a boarding school, so there are the requisite secret societies, girl-on-girl drama, school murder, et cetera… but somehow it feels throughout the book like nothing is happening. And then the adult main characters (remember, this is supposed to be for an adult audience) fall seriously flat; I cared about a grand total of none of them, even as the author is dragging them through romantic twists and important life decisions.
The dialogue was the real death of me in this book. Much of it was entirely out of character, and nothing sounded like it would come from a teen’s mouth–way too staid and old-fashioned. Here are a couple examples:
“Are you well, Camille?”
“I’ll bid you goodnight.”
“Then your insult was not only ill-advised but inaccurate and illogical.”
It felt like the author had never spoken to a teenager in her life. To make matters more difficult, there weren’t many dialogue tags included, so it often became difficult to follow conversations. I’m a fan of keeping dialogue tags on the sparser side myself, but I still recognize that you need to include enough of them so that readers have a sense of who’s talking.
Basically it felt like there was too much crammed into the book, and yet nothing was going on, and even worse, the characters were not nearly fun enough to hold up a book with little plot. I just think that there are so many other books that tackle similar subject matter in a more satisfying fashion. School murder, with people playing the blame game? One of Us Is Lying. Boarding school drama? Maureen Johnson. Young-feeling thriller with a twist at the end? Lock Every Door. Unfortunately I did not get on well with this book, and the writing style makes me wary of picking up another book by this author.
Like everyone else, I’m in that kind of confounded state right now with the realization that I have to start writing 2020 everywhere. I’ve done my time already with my 2019 look-back post; now let’s get excited with some sparkling new books! Most (but not all) of these are by authors whose work I’m familiar with. I might not get to every single one in 2020, but I’ll certainly give it my best. 2019 was the year I went from devoted reader to a certified whale reader, so there is no logical excuse I can’t get to all of these!!!!!!!
10. One of Us Is Next by Karen M. McManus
So McManus’s last book, Two Can Keep a Secret, was an unfortunate disappointment to me last year, but I’m hoping that this sequel to her first book will be a return to form. One of Us Is Lying was one of my favorite books of 2018, so this book has a lot to live up to!
9. House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas
I’m so incredibly curious to read this new series by SJM. I’ve been reading her books since middle school and I still have a printed copy of the Fictionpress first draft that later became her Throne of Glass series, so I’m what you could call a devoted fan, lol. I’m looking forward to all the stalking around, the tang of blood in people’s mouths, and probably the MC finding their “mate.” SJM is nothing if not predictable.
8. Burn Our Bodies Down by Rory Power
I loved last year’s Wilder Girls, and it was such a unique and raw story that I’m curious to see what other stories this author has to tell. I’d estimate that Rory Power is going to become a real force in the YA market.
7.A Royal Kiss and Tell by Julia London (A Royal Wedding #2)
Still waiting for a cover reveal on this one! The first in this series was so much fun, and I’m dying to read more by London. Most of the historical romance I read in 2019 focused on earls and dukes, so it’s fun to go full daydream and fantasize about falling in love with royalty.
6. Loveboat, Taipei by Abigail Hing Wen
I didn’t hear about this one until real recently when it was part of a blog tour, and it is so up my alley! I love the Chinese focus, and the cover is speaking to me. Happily, this is one I won’t have to wait for too long because it releases in just a couple days. 🙂
5. Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus
I was pretty disappointed by the two YA “alien” books I read in 2019 (alien in quotes, since neither one actually contained any aliens at all). I’m hoping that Daniel Kraus will prove that third time’s the charm; his version of The Shape of Water was fantastic. I’m also very curious to see how his style adapts to a YA audience, since Water was quite literary. Hoping that my ARC request gets granted!
4. The Kingdom of Back by Marie Lu
I remember hearing about the makings of this book yeeeeeeeears ago on an interview with the author on Sarah Enni’s First Draft podcast. I’ve only read the one book by Marie Lu, Warcross, which seems very different from this book. Also, get a load of that cover. I think it must be in the running for prettiest cover ever.
3. A Crimson Truth by Kelsey Quick (Vampires in Avignon #2)
Also waiting for a cover reveal on this one! I was a big fan of Quick’s A Violet Fire, and I’m really curious to see how the next book will develop. I hear there will be Zein POV sections, which is super exciting.
2. The Hand on the Wall by Maureen Johnson
The conclusion to Truly, Devious is almost here! It’s been a few long years since the start of this series, and I’m dying to know who the culprit is. This also reminds me I have to catch up on all of Johnson’s other series–I’m in the middle of two more of them. How in the world do these things happen?
1. The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne
I’ve been mega-excited for this book ever since I saw the gorgeous cover. It sounds like a spiritual successor to The Selection, which I looooooooved. If they are anything alike, then this book and I are going to get along fabulously. February 4th can’t get here soon enough!
Secret, other #1: Beauty and the Beast and Aliens
So maybe this is cringy, but I’m really looking forward to getting the draft of my new book done so that I know what the story’s all about! I’m the kind of writer who only has a vague sense of where each story is going to go, so I’m psyched to get the story sorted and start editing. It’s at around the fifty percent mark right now, and I’m aiming to have the first draft done by sometime in February, with a summer release. Stay tuned!
Happy New Year! 😀 I waited to put out this post until today, just because I had the sense that I was going to be sneaking in one more book on the last day of the year. My instincts were right; I ended 2019 with the very sexy number of 69 total books read, along with more than thirty short stories for my Short Tuesday series.
2019 was officially the year that I became a whale reader, which I define as finishing 52 or more books a year (at least a book/week). A lot changed for me in 2019 that got me reading more. Can you believe that prior to 2019 I scarcely ever read ebooks? That changed this past year; I started reading on my phone, which really helped me get in more books. I also started reading ARCs, which gave me the necessary pressure to finish books, even if I didn’t really feel like it. I also discovered tons of new authors that I love, and, perhaps most crucially, I stopped watching as much YouTube, which opened up A LOT more reading time.
I haven’t quite kept up my reading pace these last few months of the year, but that’s because:
I’m drafting my Beauty and the Beast and Aliens book;
I was in the throes of NaNo throughout November;
and the holiday season always requires a lot of attention.
My Goodreads goal for 2019 was 45; this year I’m going to set it at 52. Here’s exactly what I read in 2019, but keep scrolling for all my statistics, my picks for all sort of different categories (sexiest book, funniest book, etc.), and my top three reads of the year!
This year my reading habits shifted dramatically in terms of audience, to my surprise. My 2018 reading habits were dominated by YA, but this year most of what I read was adult, in large part due to bingeing Sookie Stackhouse novels and diving deeper into romance. In 2020 I want to maintain a good mix of YA, New Adult, and adult books in my reading.
I want to give a big caveat that I’m the one doing the categorizing here, so some books that I define as speculative for example (The Warehouse) others might place in the sci-fi category.
What do I take from this graph? First of all, I read very widely this year, though almost everything here falls under the umbrella category of “genre fiction.” Urban fantasy was a dominating force, but really those were just Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackouse novels. (More on those down below.) Romance was a huge surprise for me this year–I found some authors that I just adore (Eloisa James, Julia London), and I discovered exactly how binge-worthy the genre can be. Fantasy continues to be less and less of a presence in my reading, which is so interesting to me as I used to primarily read fantasy. As we head into 2020, I hope to keep my genre selections wide, while still reading what I love.
Crazy that I didn’t give any books a one-star review this year, though, to be fair, I DNF’d a few here and there. I continue to get better and better at judging what kind of book is going to agree with me, so I don’t see anything wrong with the distribution here. Let’s turn the whole graph green for 2020!
ARCs vs. Books Purchased/Borrowed
This was the first year I used NetGalley, and I dove in whole hog to the ARC game, signing up for books left and right. Reading ARCs come with their fair share of headaches, but my reading selection was very broad this year, mainly due to how many ARCs I read. In 2020, I want to continue reading a lot of ARCs, since reading widely is an ongoing goal of mine.
Indies vs. Hybrid vs. Traditionally Published
Here I’m defining indie as an entirely self-published book, hybrid as a book that’s been put out by a publisher that produces books with an indie mindset and grants authors a higher royalty rate, and trad pub as books that have been put into production by a publisher with a more traditional business model. Sometimes it can be hard to tell where books fall, especially as indie authors get more and more professional, but I believe the numbers up top are accurate.
The indie community as it stands right now is essentially a return to pulp fiction, with an extreme emphasis on quantity of output, since rapid release is a proven technique for making money. It’s not unusual to see an indie author who’s putting out 4+ books/year. Needless to say, the quality of a lot of indie books can be shoddy, so that’s why one of my reading goals for 2020 is to discover more indie authors who are putting out a quality product. I found a few this year, and I just want to keep broadening my horizons. 🙂
Top Three Favorite Short Stories
This year I started my Short Tuesday series, where I review a short story every Tuesday and provide a link so that everyone can read it. The vast majority of what I read are horror or SFF, since I mainly stick to either Tor.com or Nightmare Magazine. Out of the thirty-odd stories I read in 2019, these three are my top picks!
I wax lyrical about Thorne’s book The Queen’s Wing down below, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say that I adored the two books by Thorne that I read this year, and I’ll be the first in line for future books. I’m also curious to check out the other books she has out under her other pen names, R.F. Long and Ruth Frances Long. Isn’t it great when a new-to-you author has a back list? 😀
Three-Star Read That Left the Deepest Impression
Esaping Exodus had its flaws–scattershot character development, overbearing social justice themes, a too-much-of-everything plot–but boy, was it memorable. Scenes such as climbing through a giant space-beast’s sphincter just to have a private conversation tend to stick in your mind. It’s going to take a long time for the riotous journey that was Escaping Exodus to fade from memory, and I’m curious to read future books by this author.
I won’t lie–I expected The Shape of Water to be garbage. Guillermo del Toro for me is a drawback, not a plus, and I suspect it was the concurrent (and awful) movie tie-in that kept this book from being a five-star read. Lo and behold, the book was great, and now I’m waiting with bated breath for Kraus’s YA alien horror release next year. He’s a really talented author, and I’m super curious to see how he tackles a YA book, since this book was decidedly adult fiction.
I read not one, but two YA books this year that claimed to have aliens in them but actually didn’t. Just look at that cover–When the Sky Fell on Splendor makes promises to its readers that it simply does not keep. I was hoping for a Stranger Things-esque story with an alien flair, and instead got a navel-gazing mess of characters that I didn’t really care about. This book was unfortunately a huge disappointment.
I loved Milman’s first book, Scream All Night, and Swipe Right for Murder was even better, and funnier. Milman is an auto-buy for me at this point, and he truly understands how to take his readers on a trippy, hilarious ride. If you’re in need of a laugh, then give this contemporary YA thriller with a cyberpunk feel a try.
I… did not know that a romance book had the ability to make me feel the way When Beauty Tamed the Beast made me feel. Not to go into the gory details, but this book had my nerves physically on fire when I was reading it. I think that’s all that needs saying, hahaha.
Best Plot Twist
I’m putting up two books for this category. I tore through Sager’s Lock Every Door and did not see the plot twist coming at all–but God, was it great. You know how some plot twists are deus ex machina-esque and just make you groan? That was not this in the slightest. As for Definitely Dead, the sixth Sookie Stackhouse novel, I was so floored by the revelation involving Vampire Bill in this book that I couldn’t help but share all the deets with my husband–that’s how shocking it was to me. (He was also very surprised, lol.)
Most Touching Book
I cried–‘nuf said. Hardly any book has ever made me cry, but Lovely War managed it. Yes, the Greek god framework of the book was a little janky, but the main love story in this book was incredibly moving. Whenever anyone who’s not a big genre fiction person has asked me for a book recommendation this year, I’ve used Lovely War as my go-to choice.
Top Three of 2019
(with some admitted cheating)
I know it’s lame, but I honestly could not make a decision for the number three spot between these books. Here There Are Monsters debuted to less-than-stellar reviews, which was heartbreaking to me because I adored it. The author’s lyrical language, the fraught relationship between the two sisters (gotta love a sister story), and the entirely unexpected ending–for me, Amelinda Bérubé is an author to watch. I get it, the main character and her sister weren’t that likable, but that was half the point of the book. I would change literally nothing about Here There Are Monsters, it was that strong of a book for me.
Under Rose-Tainted Skies caught me completely off-guard–I was looking for a book about an agoraphobic character, but I didn’t expect this book to be so moving and thought-provoking. This book is entirely character-driven, and I did not want to give these characters up at the end of the book; I was sorely tempted to head back to page one and do an immediate reread. If you’ve been looking for a palate-cleanser, give this book a try.
I happened upon a glowing review of this book and decided to take a chance on it, only to discover my favorite new-to-me author this year. The Queen’s Wing consumed me; it has that “science-fantasy” feel that I just adore, similar to theLunar Chronicles series, and the character development, setting, plot–literally everything here is perfect. I’m not sure if Thorne will be continuing this series with a third book (I see she’s working on another series on Goodreads) but I’m praying that she does. Anyone who loves young adult/new adult sci-fi or fantasy needs to place this at the top of their list. It is such a gem, and it’s flying under the bookish community’s radar.
I never did a formal review of the Sookie Stackhouse books, but Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampires series dominated my reading for the latter half of the year. I read the first book, Dead Until Dark, last year, but then binged all other twelve books in the series within a few month span at the end of 2019. There were a few days in there where I would finish one book, check the time to make sure Barnes and Noble was still open, then dash out of the house to buy the next in the series; that’s how much I loved these books, and I’ve been having a book hangover ever since I finished up the last one. Was every single one absolutely perfect? No, but the series is so long, has such a wide cast of characters, and is so entertaining that I can’t put anything else as my number one for 2019. I will forever adore these books, and now I’m left with the unfortunate task of having to find more books that will give me a spiritual successor feeling. Mehhhh…
2020 Bookish Goals
Like I mentioned up top, I’m striving to read at least 52 books in 2020, which should be pretty doable. I also want to read at least one non-fiction book, since not a one featured in my reading selection this past year! A third goal of mine is to discover more indie authors whose work I enjoy, since quality can be an issue with indie books. Finally, I want to finish more series; I got caught up on and/or finished six series this past year, but I still have a lot to go.
What about you–what are your reading goals for 2020? Looking back at 2019, were your reading habits satisfactory, or is there something you want to change for the new year? Comment down below, and have a great year, everybody! ❤
This week I took a look at Tor.com for Short Tuesday to read “I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)?” by Neil Gaiman. You can read the story for free here…
This was one of those short stories that I can tell is technically great, but that I had a difficult time fully immersing myself in. A good heaping of that is due to the whimsical tone of the piece; I don’t have an issue with whimsy per se, but it has to hit me right. The Sookie Stackhouse series is just perfect in this regard (for example, I adore the notion of a vampire Elvis–excuse me, Bubba), but anything that veers tonally towards Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Good Omens I’m going to have a difficult time with. I never want my fiction to have a smarmy, “aren’t we all so clever for liking this” feel. I mean, just look at the title of the piece; I couldn’t even type it in right to my WordPress blog tags. 😡 Or maybe I’m just in a grumpy mood today, lol.
So this story was mildly entertaining for me, but I was happy it was short. As always, the Lovecraft touches are a winner for me, and Gaiman’s breadth of language was a breath of fresh air. If you like Neil Gaiman and Lovecraft, this story’s a no-brainer, but personally it was only okay.
The twenty-fifth chapter of The Gold in the Dark is out! New chapters, complete with brilliant chapter illustrations courtesy of Ally Grosvenor, release every other Sunday at 11 AM EST (and many times earlier)! You can get started on the series with Chapter One right here or now also on Wattpad.
These past couple weeks have been slow writing- and blog-wise, just due to Christmas and lots of time with friends and family. I’m chugging away at drafting as best I can, but I’ll admit that I’ve been making very slow progress. Regardless, I’m still looking at hopefully getting my first draft of the Beauty and the Beast and Aliens book complete by sometime in February.
For any writers out there, I also want to give a quick shout-out to the Six Figure Authors podcast, which I’ve been enjoying a lot in the last couple weeks. Their last episode featured an in-depth interview with Dean Wesley Smith, who had some really fantastic, unique advice about (not) editing, and the podcast before was just one revelation after the next about selling direct. I do sell direct already from my website, by the way, so if you’ve been meaning to pick up a copy of Specter and you want a little more cash going directly to me, please consider purchasing the book through my store!
I’m also working hard on getting my end of 2019 posts ready; I’m waiting until January to get them up because I do have the sense I’m still going to be finishing a book or two in the next couple days and I want all my stats to be accurate! I love seeing everyone else’s year end posts–best ofs, worst ofs, and everything in between. I think I’m also going to do a “state of the blog/business” post, with some New Year’s resolutions as well. I’ve always enjoyed setting New Year’s resolutions, even if my follow-through is only halfway there. 😉
Big note at the beginning of this review is that not only did I receive an ARC of A Violet Fire for a free and honest review by the author, but that Kelsey Quick and I have become author buddies along the way! I helped her with some of the late-stage editing of AVF, provided cover feedback, and we also talk shop about author stuff. So this review is biased fo sho! But I still wanted to get up a review. 🙂
I had tons of fun reading A Violet Fire. Anyone who’s spent time around these parts knows I’m a big vampire fan, and A Violet Fire was just the right strain of different to keep me glued to the page. I loved the world-building; save for The Passage by Justin Cronin, which I didn’t entirely get along with, I’ve never read a vampire book where vampires have taken over the world. The premise here is simple and makes for great romantic power dynamics: vampires in this universe own humans like cattle, and our human MC, Wavorly, is a blood supply unit of hot vampire bad boy Zein. Yeah, it sounds a little fucked up on paper, but if you’re like me and love a Beauty and the Beast backbone, then this is a book to put on your list.
Quick has a voice for YA, and the book moves swiftly. It does have a first book feel; by that I mean that you can tell it’s gone through a lot of editing and has some patches, but I don’t really deduct for that since every author has a first book. It was all the little touches I enjoyed most: Wavorly’s friendships, the way she uses French to her advantage, her insistence on human dignity, the dark and lush imagery. Reading AVF is kind of like eating candy; the two are nothing alike story-wise, but I was reminded of the momentum I felt when I read The Selection a few years back. It’s just fun.
I’m excited for the sequel to AVF, which I believe is slated for release next year. Vampires are back in YA, thank the lord! And a big congratulations to Kelsey again; as I said in my interview with her, I’ve never seen an indie author put so much effort into a release, and I admire her as a fellow author businesswoman. I will definitely be reading book two.
This short story was right up my alley–some body horror mixed with Lovecraft (oh, those non-Euclidean geometries!), all with an I-found-it-on-the-Internet framework. The premise of the story is that the MC’s brother has been following the online coursework of a man who promises to be able to help him access other planes of reality via his dreams. The MC, his brother, and his brother’s friend are all down on their luck or seemingly on the outskirts of society; it was never mentioned in the story, but I couldn’t help thinking about how a lot of men in the US who have dropped out of society have fallen into opioid addiction. Sad and isolated people can be drawn to dangerous and unhealthy things, and that’s exactly what happens to these guys as they get sucked into an alternate and terrifying reality.
The tone is equal parts ethereal and grounded: great poetic imagery, but the MC doesn’t hesitate to talk like a normal person.
“Freud said that the buildings inside our dreams are pulled from a collective pool of unconscious architecture.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“It’s an evolutionary development. The blueprints are engrained in our DNA. Every single person. If you learned to dream actively you could walk the rooms of these dream places and every time you returned, they’d be exactly the same.”
“I genuinely don’t understand.” I zip, zip, zipped a line of screws into the drywall and Rob took his hands away. It floated there like a kind of magic.
What else was great about this? The woodsy setting was perfect, along with the descriptions. And best of all, it has a great horror ending that fits the rest of the piece, hallelujah. That’s not always common ’round these parts. So if you’re feeling up for a bit of horror as we move into the dark months of winter, give this one a try; it’s good fun.
Hey, one more thing: on the off-chance that the author reads this post (which has actually happened in the past), or really anyone who has ever written short fiction, I really recommend you get your short fiction listed on Goodreads! I always try to post reviews of short fiction on GR if possible, and it can be a crapshoot whether the stories are there or not. I was pretty bummed to see that this author is only listed in anthologies on GR with no individual story entries; he’s so good and should really list his stories separately! Short fiction can be a great way to start gathering a fan base (I often add books by Short Tuesday authors to my TBR) so why not use your short fiction to its full potential? Just my two cents.
The twenty-fourth chapter of The Gold in the Dark is out! New chapters, complete with brilliant chapter illustrations courtesy of Ally Grosvenor, release every other Sunday at 11 AM EST (and many times earlier)! You can get started on the series with Chapter One right here or now also on Wattpad.
These past couple weeks I’ve been continuing drafting myBeauty and the Beast and Aliens book (which now has a mock-up cover, oooh).
The title and cover will be changing, of course, but I just wanted to get a placeholder up on the blog so people know it’s coming. Getting the title right is going to be tricky, since I’m pretty positive this is going to be a series, so the title needs to have a specific word or cadence that can be used for books to come. Oh well, I’ll figure it out in time, hopefully. I was lucky enough with Specter to know straightaway what the title would be, though The Gold in the Dark took some work, and I was never completely satisfied with it if I’m being honest.
Drafting is going well; I’m slower after NaNo, but that’s also a ’tis the season type of thing with Christmas coming up. I keep having great ideas for this book/series, and that makes me very excited for things to come.
I’m also beginning work on my end-of-year posts, like an analysis of my 2019 reading habits, the books I want to read most from my TBR next year, my goals as a writer next year, etc. I’m finding that a lot of my TBR picks for 2019 were not actually books I got around to reading, even though this year I’ve read more than any year past by far! I think a good portion of that is down to me by-and-large abandoning reading fantasy; for the second year in a row I’m not really feeling fantasy for whatever reason. I’ll probably explore that more fully in my upcoming posts.