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Do You Ever Go Back To A Book You Didn’t Finish?

Original Abstract Art Landscape Painting Canvas Acrylic Moon | Etsy

I have become a chronic DNF-er. Several years ago, I decided life was far too short to waste it slogging through books that weren’t holding my interest (or even worse, were actively offending me). But, a while back, I opted to return to a few titles that I’d never finished, but kept coming back to my memory, and giving me a little push. One of them, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, has since made my top 10 of recommended YA fantasy reads. So, taking a risk on going back to previous DNF’ed books can be worth it.

Lately, I’m in a reading quandary. I don’t like the publishing trends since about 2017 (the overused tropes, obvious soapboxes, one-dimensional characters, recycled plots), so trying to read anything newly released in the last few years has been not much fun at all. At Christmas, I purposefully hunted down selections at Barnes and Noble that were unfamiliar authors, unknown titles (with one exception). To be brutally honest, I have yet to start any of them, because disappointment is already niggling at the back of my mind (based totally on the recent pattern, I wholeheartedly admit).

So, recently I decided to do something I never do: Go back to a series I started ages back and then abandoned.

Somewhere in the 2010s, I read the first few pages of Marissa Meyer’s Cinder and Cress, and got confused and not drawn in, and just let them go. I didn’t realize at that time that The Lunar Chronicles is a sequential series, and that all the fairytale retellings tie together. (I guess I really need all my YA fantasy books to be numbered!)

Anyway, I had the chance to acquire paperbacks of the series, and I felt, why not? The Lunar Chronicles hit the mark for my reading criteria in 2021: Not already read it, not a victim of current trends, two of my preferred genres (speculative fiction and fairytale retellings).

I am so pleasantly surprised.

I could not put down Cinder, hurried through Scarlet, and am eagerly proceeding to Cress.

These books are WOW. Marissa Meyer didn’t pull any punches when it came to touching on the darker subtext of the original tales (such as abusive families and relationships), and she also took on serious topics from the modern era (like plague, war, and oppression), without getting preachy or tangential. Now I understand why this series topped all the bestseller lists.

These characters behave like real people — they experience difficulty and loss, and react in ways I could see actual humans reacting. Cinder and Scarlet are anything but Mary Sue types; Kai and Thorne and Wolf definitely aren’t white knights. Just like in real life, their motives make sense, but unexpected complications get in the way of plans and initial choices.

The plot threads all weave together with few loose ends, and each storyline is well-crafted, so you can follow the individual tales and keep track of the far-reaching “grand scheme,” and not get lost on either.

I probably won’t read anything else until I come to the last page of Winter. I need to know what happens next to Cinder and company — and that’s something I haven’t said about any series in a very long time.

I’m beginning to think I should stay away from new releases for a bit…until they’re not so new. Maybe then I’ll be over the hype, over the worry of being let down, and more ready to evaluate these books on their own merits.

It certainly worked this time!

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The KC Warlock Weekly: Review and Blog Tour

The KC Warlock Weekly: Book One: Accused by M.N. Jolley

Hello again! Today I’m on the blog tour for the indie publication The KC Warlock Weekly by author MN Jolley.

Summary:

My name is Levi. I’m a journalist, I’m autistic, I’m bad at magic, and I swear I didn’t kill her.

Research for the paper usually falls into a few basic patterns. Someone in the city says there’s a troll under Buck O’Neil Bridge, or they’ll call just so a friendly ear will listen to them complain about a pixie infestation.

That sort of content carries me through slow news weeks. It’s rare that I uncover a murder.

Being framed for murder, though? That’s a first.

With the Wizard’s Council hunting me for a crime I didn’t commit, I’ve got no choice but to solve the murder and clear my name. If I don’t unravel this case, nobody will, and I’ll go down for it so hard I might never see the light of day again.

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This was a fun, interesting read. It’s an Own Voices self-published novel with an autistic protagonist. While this is rare in itself, it’s also rare (unfortunately) to find a book that has this established and presents an accurate portrayal of said narrator. Levi stims, has coping mechanisms for sensory overload, struggles with worrying about communication difficulties, and prefers to spend a lot of quiet time alone (except for his cat).

Levi is also not written as a character that should be pitied by the reader — and this is a MAJOR departure from adult fiction’s current focus when it comes to autism. Levi simply tries to lives his life the way that works best for him, and really doesn’t care too much about what other people think of that fact. This was so refreshing it hit me really hard at first in the reading.

The urban fantasy plot is at once familiar and unique; magic is real in a real-world city, but many people aren’t aware of this. Jolley jumps into his premise with no apologies, using a lot of realistic dialogue and sensible exposition (not many info dumps here) to slowly build the world and introduce the characters. Much of the story is told through flashbacks, but shifts in time between the past and present are clearly marked in the text, so it’s pretty easy to follow.

As someone who meticulously edits her own work (and does so partly because being on the spectrum means I’m hyper concerned about plot holes or lapses in continuity), I did notice a few minor things that I would’ve liked to see flushed out a little more. BUT, don’t let my Persnickety Bookdragon eye turn you off; this is a very well-written, well-played-out novel that explores common tropes (like mythological creatures or beings) with a fresh view. It’s part detective novel, part traditional low fantasy, with a smidge of budding romance, a fair amount of Kansas City location references, and an excellent look at an autist having an unexpected adventure.

There is a giveaway link at the bottom of the page, for a signed copy (shipped within the USA).

If you’re at all interested in Own Voices and/or the urban fantasy genre, do check out the author’s links below. The KC Warlock Weekly is the first work I’ve read by this author, but he has other publications out as well, so, go, explore!

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M.N. Jolley is an author based in Kansas City. When he’s not splitting his attention between far too many half finished hobby projects, he writes fantasy novels, with a particular fondness for any conflict that can’t be solved through brute force alone. He is currently working on “The KC Warlock Weekly” and “The Sacrosanct Records”, because even in writing he can’t be pinned down to working on just one project at a time!

The KC Warlock Weekly: Book One: Accused - Kindle edition by Jolley, M. N..  Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

From the author:

The book is free to download on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo, and on his website. He believes in media accessibility, as he doesn’t want to gatekeep who has access to his stories. Instead of selling his books, he has a Patreon and a Ko-Fi that he requests readers make donations to to support his writing.

https://mnjolleywriting.com/download-links/

https://www.patreon.com/mnjolley

https://ko-fi.com/mnjolley

Giveaway link: https://woorise.com/mnjolleywriting/kcww-giveaway

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How Many Chances Do You Give An Author?

The 37 best books of 2020: our top reads from every genre | Times2 | The  Times

This is a question I’ve been wrestling with a lot in the last few years. I used to decide that only reading one book by an author, unless it was a truly awful experience, isn’t really giving that writer a fair shot. But after repeatedly being let down by the same individuals on a matter of several titles, I think the time has come to set a new limit on how long I’ll continue to torture myself. The following is a list of my most recent lines in the sand, and my reasons why.

(Disclaimer: Taste is subjective, so please don’t feel bad if I’ve happened to bash an author that really makes your day. Life is too short to spend a lot of time on stuff that we aren’t getting much out of, and I look at discussion posts like this as an opportunity to think through what does and doesn’t work — for myself — and for us all to share thoughts that may indeed lead us to our next favorites!)

Matt Haig:

The Humans by Matt Haig

I’ve heard really great things about Matt Haig’s books, how they’re so prolific — writing with the same wit and humor and poignancy for children as well as adults — and how they make you think without being preachy or irritating. But after just not feeling very engaged with How To Stop Time or The Midnight Library, I found myself disappointed yet again by The Humans. This author’s style ranges from (I feel) very dull to frustratingly confusing, and I realized pretty quickly — I’d never even heard of him 18 months ago — that his entries in speculative fiction are definitely a no-go for me.

V.E. Schwab:

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue - Kindle edition by Schwab, V. E..  Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

I know this is certainly going to be a let down for some of my followers, as Schwab has a solid and beloved reputation among spec fic readers, but after not being able to follow 80% of the Monsters of Verity duology, and nearly falling asleep slogging through A Darker Shade of Magic, I believed The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue would be my last attempt with her. Sure enough, while I found the style to be a big step up from my previous dalliances into Schwab’s bibliography, the plot still fell prey to the slow, strong build and then drop-off-a-cliff-into-nowhere ending that I feel characterizes her stories. Maybe other readers really enjoy that approach, but for me it’s greatly unsatisfying.

Sarah J. Maas:

A Court of Silver Flames (A Court of Thorns and Roses, 5): Maas, Sarah J.:  9781681196282: Amazon.com: Books

Now, believe it or not, I’ve actually just been accepting it as a universally acknowledged truth among Maas fans that there’s a whole lot of s-e-x in her books — because, while previously trying to read A Court of Thorns and Roses and Throne of Glass, I didn’t even get to the steamy scenes, as I developed such a strong dislike of the protagonists in each series so early on, I didn’t continue! I considered trying Crescent City, but it isn’t in our library system yet, and since A Court of Silver Flames features a different protagonist from the rest of that series (someone I might not hate!), I gave it a go.

And…well…er…WOW. I think there was less X-rated content in A Song of Ice and Fire. No wonder every Maas publication is well over 500 pages, since it appears to be written into her contract that copious amounts of graphically described bedroom action shall receive more text space than world-building or character growth. Okay, then…moving on…

Patrick Ness:

Chaos Walking, a Review – The Nerds of Color

After A Monster Calls went down in my reading history as one of the most disturbing novels I’ve ever finished, I got really mad when I saw the trailer for the new “Chaos Walking” movie (with Tom Holland! of current Spiderman! fame), and learned it’s based on a trilogy by (damn it) Patrick Ness. I did decide to give The Knife of Never Letting Go a try, and I just…won’t ever get on board with the “gritty realism” aspect of dystopia. I’m an adult, I’m completely aware that life is not always pleasant, and can often be downright crappy. But this is EXACTLY why I read fiction that focuses on the better side of humanity, not the worst. And it seems that Patrick Ness is determined to make us all hate other people (and he will NEVER get a pass from me for letting the dog die).

So, sorry for that dramatic end note! Unfortunately these are a few more authors crossed off my list, which means I’m back to the tried-and-true (at least Maggie Stiefvater’s new title is being released long after my book buying ban is over!) while hoping to find happy surprises among a whole new crop of writers I’ve never heard of! Best of luck with your own TBR, everyone!

R.E.A.D. – Reading and Engaging with Animals Daily – Animal Welfare League  of Trumbull County, Inc.

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The Littlest Dinosaur – Precious Picture Book Review

Good morning, everyone! First off, I will present a “squealing disclaimer” for this review — it was pitched to R&R Tours reviewers as “the CUTEST post ever” — and oh my gosh, is that ever the truth! This is such a sweet, heartwarming little story of a T-Rex who’s having trouble making friends with the other dinosaurs, because of course they expect him to eat them. Plot twist: Ty is a vegan, and when he invites the herbivores over for dinner, they’re absolutely not on the menu! In the end, Ty’s new friends come to realize there are exceptions to the rule, and that it’s worth taking a chance on something different — as it might just bring you (and someone else!) happiness.

This is an easy read for young children, as the text font is clear and there aren’t a ton of words per page. The illustrations are lovely, using soft shades and a minimalist style. I was so excited to receive this review copy, and read it to Muffin right away. (He enjoyed it, too.) We’re nowhere near vegans in my family, but I will never criticize a message of inclusion and acceptance, especially one presented in such a light, straightforward manner as The Littlest Dinosaur.

The book is available in physical or digital copy via Amazon, and we’re having a giveaway on this blog tour to try your luck with! I do recommend this one for ages 4 and up (and their parents, too!).

Rafflecopter giveaway link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f236/

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Mini-Reviews: Recently Read, Watched, and Raged Over

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian: Probert, Tim, Probert, Tim:  9780062990471: Amazon.com: Books

Because it wouldn’t be one of my reviews if there wasn’t some raging! Yes, although I swore to myself I’d post more positive content this year (since everybody knows the world sucks right now and we could all use more sparkly joyfulness), this moth will also never give up on her crusade to force common decency back into the human species. (Don’t remind me that this may be a futile endeavor. My heart won’t rest unless I try.)

Anyway, let’s start with a good one! Last month I finished a graphic novel for the first time ever! It was book 1 of the Lightfall series, entitled The Girl and the Galdurian. This book is DELIGHTFUL. The illustrations are lovely, and really do add to the telling of the story (the opposite of which has been a big struggle for me with this genre/format). There’s a quest, but the boring bits are cut out! The protagonist has an anxiety disorder! Which isn’t fixed overnight! And the adventures make sense! And the action doesn’t go at a breakneck pace! This tale of Bea and her found friend Cad on the search for Bea’s missing grandfather is a charming and easy read. Recommended for novices in the format and fans of the genre. It’s classified as a juvenile title, but it’s enjoyable for adults, too!

Think Again by Adam Grant: 9781984878106 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Think Again is a non-fiction account and discussion on why we think what we think, and whether it’s healthy or damaging to change our mindsets — and why people don’t alter negative thought processes. I found it very interesting that, as an autist, someone who supposedly “struggles with rigid thinking,” I already follow several of the patterns/methods recommended by this author for adjusting one’s thoughts. It was also interesting to read about the research that’s quickly confirming people’s biases and prejudices come mostly from an emotional desire to fit in with their family and community, and not actually from logical reasoning or real life experiences. Since I tend to change my mind based on actual people I know or things that happen to me, I’d appear to be the “goal” for civilization moving forward, according to the author. Hmm. I’m the future…

Amazon.com: The Push: A Novel (9781984881663): Audrain, Ashley: Books

The Push was by far one of the most disturbing novels I’ve ever read. It starts off very interesting, as a portrayal of a young mother who came from a neglectful family background and was worried that she couldn’t break the cycle with her own children. But before a quarter of the way in, the reader is given definite hints that either the narrator is unreliable, or that something truly insidious is going on under the surface. As the story progresses, it goes from depressing to trying to be a suspenseful thriller, to slamming headfirst into dark psychiatric territory, and the repercussions for the main characters being COMPLETELY FREAKING STUPID are just horrific and rage-inducing. The ending is straight out of a Japanese horror movie, and I just sat there shaking my head (literally! not figuratively) for about 5 minutes straight after finishing the last pages. Usually I don’t like to boycott, but this author is definitely going on my hit list, for sheer moronic writing. You simply CANNOT write about such serious circumstances as violent mental illness in children (yes, you read that right) without treating it properly — and this story absolutely does not!

Bridgerton (TV Series 2020– ) - IMDb

What a disappointment this was! I got all excited about the premiere of Bridgerton on Netflix (also, now that my household subscribes to Netflix! finally being able to watch all these exclusive originals!), and then was totally let down. I had no idea that what started as a charming period drama would turn into legit smut! I know for many viewers, this is totally fine, and maybe even expected or hoped for (since I later found out there’s a lot of erotica in the books). But for me it was too inappropriate, too jarring from the setting, too twisting the Jane-Austen-esque storyline to Regency era sex education, and I just…what the hell-ed myself practically into oblivion. After watching the entire first season and finding that much of the character development was put on hold to make plenty of runtime for the bedroom scenes, I determined that, for me at least, this was a failed experiment and if there are further seasons, I won’t be watching.

FGTeeV Presents: Into the Game!: FGTeeV, Rivas, Miguel Díaz: 9780062933676:  Amazon.com: Books

From the sublime to the ridiculous, as they used to say…or, from the very unexpectedly inappropriate to the family friendly and wholesome — but, hey, I do want to end on a good note! This was a purchase for Muffin (before my book buying ban, don’t worry!), because he loves this family’s YouTube channels. Another graphic novel (much of which the child successfully read by himself!), Into The Game combines fantasy with the real world without losing sight of what’s really important, which is family and trying your best and not giving up. I have a lot of respect for people who put their kids on YouTube because they genuinely enjoy making videos, not just to make money, which this family embodies. They deserve the accolades and fans.

And that’s all for this time! I’ll be back soon! Have a great weekend, everybody!

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City of the Plague God: Awesome YA Diverse Fantasy With History, Heart, Humor, and Hot Sauce

City Of The Plague God - By Sarwat Chadda (Hardcover) : Target

Welcome to the first book hangover of 2021!

City of the Plague God by Sarwat Chadda is also the first YA fantasy I’ve read in easily 2 years that didn’t disappoint me, and really made my heart soar. I have so many positive thoughts in my mind about this one, all jostling to be let out first. Let’s see if I can organize them at least a little!

The rundown is: a teenage Muslim American protagonist in New York City, Sik, who’s convinced the legends and mythology from the ancient home lands of his ancestors are just that, gets a startling visit one night from a god of plague, Nergal. Nergal claims Sik’s older brother, Mo (who has been dead for at least a year at the start of the story), stole a sacred relic from Iraq the last time he was there. Nergal wants it back. Sik has no idea what’s going on. Chaos and adventure ensues.

My terrible summary does not do this novel justice. It is AWESOME. I enjoyed it SO much. For me, it hits all my high points: Sik is an ordinary kid, thrust into extraordinary circumstances, forcing his best to come out and thrive. He’s still grieving the accidental death of his beloved older brother. He worries he won’t be enough for his parents. He wants to make his mom and dad proud. Sik spends his time after school working in his family’s restaurant.

THIS BOOK HAS PARENTS! Sik and his partner in saving the world, Belet, have parents who CARE, who ENCOURAGE, who believe in their children and try their best to be GOOD guardians. Even when the plague god creates catastrophe in the city and families are separated, there are still ADULT MENTORS in the story to help Sik and Belet figure it out.

There’s no romance! While I personally like a sweet budding romance, or a pairing with obvious chemistry, I’m really tired of the trope of teenage couples needing to have epic love affairs. Sik and Belet are friends, and there are tiny hints that one day more might develop, but there is no pressure on either main character for this to happen. And since they’re supposed to be about 14, this is perfect!

These teenagers act like teenagers! Sik and Belet don’t act like they know it all and can handle everything on their own; they reach out to the adults and older adolescents in their lives for guidance. I cannot stress how refreshing this is to read. One of my biggest complaints for months now is that the teens in YA don’t seem to need grownups, which is the most ridiculous premise (as any parent would know!). Yes, City of the Plague God is a traditional going-on-a-quest, coming-of-age tale, which does mean Sik has to go it alone at more than one perilous point. BUT he always gets help, eventually, from someone who is older than him and that he can look up to as a role model. There’s none of this laughable notion that Sik can save literally the whole world all by himself. THANK GOD!

The references to Sik’s family being Iraqi refugees are human, heartfelt, and not West-shaming. There was a war, it was terrible, people came to America to find a new life. THAT’S the focus of this subject. It’s excellent.

Oh, and because the Azizes run a Middle-Eastern restaurant, every time Sik mentioned food, I drooled and howled at the heavens above for a kebab with mint yogurt sauce.

The text is well-written, with non-purpley prose that still uses enough adjectives to set the scene, in an easily flowing first person narration that just carries you along on the adventure. The story takes us from modern day Manhattan to a land of monsters and myths, and then back to a city rife with disease and disaster.

The timing of this publication is eerie. Back when it was written, and pitched, I’m sure the author was not imagining the ravages of Covid 19; but there are scenes very reminiscent of what we experienced at this time last year, with people looking for scapegoats to blame, wearing masks, businesses and public transportation shut down, thousands of people gravely ill. I know this is what happens when an ancient plague god stakes out a vendetta on a local mortal… But I have to applaud the publishers for deciding to release such a novel now, when so many kids and teenagers feel overlooked or frightened or helpless in the pandemic. Despite the fact Sik is a fictional character and he faces a different struggle than our own, he and his situation are utterly relatable.

And he receives aid from supernaturally-charged winged cats. Here, book, take my heart; just leave me the tissues.

AND THERE’S A HAPPY ENDING! I won’t reveal any spoilers — gosh, I’m already scared I may have said too much with regards to the plot! — but I AM ALL THE FLAILS over this entire book! We get plenty of humor, pop culture references, a beautifully positive portrayal of Muslims, a sensitive and healthy approach to grief, great family and friend relationships, and a wonderful young narrator to root for. Several times throughout I laughed or grinned or teared up. Well done, Mr. Chadda, so very well done!

When my book buying ban is over, this will be one of my first purchases! I’m off to make room on my shelves!

Seriously, everyone who likes YA urban fantasy should pick this one up! Let’s get City of the Plague God on the bestseller lists!

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Takakush: Spotlight Post on the Blog Tour

Image result for takakush

Takakush: Genus Magic #1

Publication Date: January 25th, 2021

Genre: Mature YA/ NA/ Urban (Dark) Fantasy

When Professor Elena Lukas returns to her cozy Pacific Northwest hometown with a broken heart, she’s plunged back into the fate she tried to escape. Like her mother and grandmother before her, Elena must now dedicate her life to a powerful ancient Lithuanian goddess. Although she is prepared to live as a priestess hiding in a contemporary tourist town, she arrives to find that a series of so-called animal attacks have terrorized her forest.

With the help of a handsome detective from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Elena uses her expertise in invasive and endangered species to identify that these are no normal animal attacks. The woods are stalked by a dark, mystical creature bent on ravaging the area in an attempt to quell its insatiable hunger. When her little sister goes missing, Elena realizes that the beast can only be vanquished if she is brave enough to face it in-person, embrace her identity as a high priestess, and expose her powers to the man she is growing feelings for.

Raine Reiter weaves together an empowered, female-centered narrative with rich descriptions of nature and an ever-present sense of mystery. Her vivid, flowing prose takes readers of dark fantasy into a world that looks and feels real, while still evoking the enticing paranormal creativity shared by authors such as Richelle Mead and Kat Richardson.

To enter for a chance to win a copy of Takakush, and whole bunch of swag (tee, magnet, notebook, and sticker), click the link below to enter! 3 winners will be chosen. (North America Only)

Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f232/?

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I Have Major Issues With The Kiss Quotient

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There are plenty of stereotypes about autism. Some of them are actually based in fact — for example, many of us don’t like making eye contact, small talk, or shaking hands, and are intense introverts. But, just like with all stereotypes, many of the ones about autism have developed over years of misunderstanding or intolerance for our sensory and neurological conditions. And since autistic individuals have been fighting for literal decades now to break apart the cliches and gain a foothold in actual acceptance, I still get really ticked when I see these stereotypes being reinforced — especially when the cliches are pushed under the guise of “increasing autism awareness.”

Recently I heard some buzz about a romance novel series by author Helen Hoang, which begins with The Kiss Quotient, and features an autistic protagonist. Bloggers have been giving this series glowing reviews, so I decided to give it a go. Unfortunately, I was incredibly disappointed.

From literally page one, the protagonist, Stella, who has Asperger’s syndrome, is being pressured by her overbearing (and quite ableist) mother to find a man and give her grandchildren already. This is a ridiculous notion, since Stella freely admits she doesn’t like babies, because she can’t handle hour-long crying fits and the horrible smells from diapers and the lack of sleep. AND — the biggest obstacle — she doesn’t like sex, because she’s had bad experience with previous boyfriends. ALL OF THIS IS ESTABLISHED BY PAGE 5! And yet, because romance-novel’s-gotta-romance-novel, Stella comes up with a plan to get her mother off her back: She will hire a male escort to teach her to become more comfortable with men touching her, so that she can at least acquire a boyfriend and present the resemblance of what her mother demands.

Okay, here’s my response to this: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Stella has Asperger’s. She’s very sensitive to unusual smells, touch, voices, and experiences. A woman with Asperger’s syndrome would NOT hire an escort, a complete stranger, to be PHYSICALLY INTIMATE with her. This is the STUPIDEST premise to a novel with an autistic protagonist struggling to find love YET (and I’ve come across some real train wrecks).

But OF COURSE this facade proceeds, with the (naturally totally hot, compassionate, loyal-to-his-little-sisters-and-mom) male escort HAVING NO IDEA Stella is autistic (despite it being revealed later that HE HAS A COUSIN ON THE SPECTRUM). And OF COURSE Michael falls in love with Stella, and the fake relationship becomes real, and his family loves her, blah-de-blah-de-blah..

Oh, and by the way, for a supposed “chick lit” offering, there’s a fair amount of downright smut in this novel. The seemingly innocent title is COMPLETELY misleading — the smut (not romance, it’s erotica) begins before page 40, and pretty much just continues. Yes, it’s a novel involving a male escort — but those of us reading it aren’t his clients, and we can live without the details.

One of my biggest complaints (other than the fact this book never should’ve gotten the green light from a publisher) is that the author herself has been diagnosed with Asperger’s — and yet she wrote a book that no one on the spectrum can relate to. Stella inwardly complains about strong smells and tastes, about not understanding social cues or other people’s emotions, but it’s all lip service: She is not outwardly autistic very much at all. She never stims, never messes up her words, never has a meltdown. There’s one scene where she starts to have a panic attack in a nightclub, but it’s related more to the fact she sees another woman hitting on Michael than to all the people, the lights, the noise (which certainly had a big impact on me the one time I went to a nightclub!). But then 2 chapters later, she manages to stave off an impending meltdown after being introduced to Michael’s entire, loud family. Too many of us would never have accepted such an invitation to begin with, knowing it would push our limits over the edge.

Stella is also — in spite of supposedly having “all these flaws” — an impeccable dresser (she pays a tailor for the most “functional” yet most comfortable clothing), a top employee at her company (because her job involves developing algorithms *massive eye roll*), and fabulously wealthy because she sees no need to spend her money on anything other than the bare necessities. GIVE ME A FREAKING BREAK! Even career-successful autists have passions and desires to engage in things not connected to their job, that cost money — like hobbies, collecting stuff, decorating our bloody house! The idea that Stella doesn’t even have furniture because “it’s not functional, since I’m always at work” (as is actually stated in one scene) is just DUMB. This author has ridiculed the very population she claims to belong to.

And I just CAN’T with that level of garbage.

By the halfway point, I wanted to literally throw the book at the wall, so I DNF’ed and this series went on my hit list.

I’m so tired of needing to put series on my hit list.

Publishers! The next time you feel the need to release a title involving an autistic protagonist, pick a submission by an #ActuallyAutistic author whose bio suggests they’re really a potato or a stack of books in a trench coat. KEEP YOUR ABLEIST EDITORS AWAY FROM IT. Bring in beta readers who are fellow potatoes, or, even better, awkward wombats. STOP TAKING OUT MENTIONS OF STIMMING, SHOW MELTDOWNS, and forget you ever heard the word “savant.” Give the narrator a job in English, horticulture, or domestic animal care. QUIT with the insulting concept that we will never have any close friends, significant others, or pets at the start of the story.

And for the love of God, DO AWAY with the crappy idea that our autism is a condition to be gawked at and pitied (Stella repeatedly refers to her social awkwardness as “her disorder”), and that our anxieties can be resolved with luuuuurve (or, in the case of The Kiss Quotient, awesome sex). Many of us do, in fact, have wonderfully caring and supportive other halves; and we STILL have sensory issues that simply being in a committed relationship will not change; we STILL tend towards introverting because it saves our auditory and processing sanity. Even a low dose of medication or a bunch of well-practiced coping techniques will NOT “cure” our physiological makeup.

I’m going to go take a nap after all this exhausting crap. See you all later, everyone.

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A Conventicle of Magpies (Spotlight Post for R&R Tours)

A Conventicle of Magpies | LMR Clarke | 9781912327416 | NetGalley

Good morning! My first tour feature in a while! Today it’s a spotlight for A Conventicle of Magpies by LMR Clarke.

(Due to Covid shipping issues, my copy arrived only very recently, and therefore I haven’t had a chance to read all of it yet. So this will mostly be a spotlight post. But I do recommend it for anyone who likes the steampunk genre, and doesn’t shy away from the not-so-nice parts of history, including racism and slavery, prejudice against the non-hetero community, and dangerous biases about foreigners.)

A Conventicle of Magpies

Publication Date: January 6th, 2021

Genre: Gaslamp Fantasy/ Adventure/ Steampunk

Rook is a thief, and entirely unapologetic about it as she’s determined to do anything to ensure her mother and siblings survive the squalid and dangerous streets of Stamchester.

Rook slips in and out of the homes of the ruling elite of Stamchester, the Avanish, like a shadow taking what she needs without regret.

Why should she? Had the Avanish not stolen her own people, the Saouiasei, from their own homes years before and transported them across the ocean to Stamchester to work as virtual slaves?

And, now the Avanish had no more use for Rook and her people, were they not determined to dispose of them?

The Avanish had already laid waste to a swathe of Saouiasei homes, a region which had become known as ‘The Scar’, in an attempt to drive them out.

However, Rook was not the only person hiding in the shadows. A far more dangerous figure was haunting the filthy streets of Stamchester striking fear into Avanish and Saouiasei alike; Billy Drainer, a serial killer who not only murdered his victims but drained them of every ounce of their precious, life-giving blood.

For within blood was a highly sought-after commodity, the ability to enhance a person’s natural abilities through the art of Bloodskill. To be faster and stronger than a normal person was something those with money were willing to pay handsomely for.

‘A Conventicle of Magpies’ is a fast-paced gaslamp fantasy adventure set in a Victorian-inspired world. Perfect for fans of Charlie N. Holmberg’s Spellbreaker and Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Click the link below for a chance to win a signed edition of A Conventicle of Magpies (International!):

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/0e7c6a8f227/

Much thanks to the fantastic Shannon at R&R Tours for all her hard work on this and all the blog tours she arranges for authors!

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Are Publishers Becoming Part of the Problem?

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what factors influence changes in our reading tastes. Sometimes it’s simply being in different stages of life (adulthood versus childhood), or just being in the mood for a certain genre or style (for example, light and fluffy entertainment during a pandemic). But — in my case, at least — I’ve noticed a direct connection between a swing in publishing trends and my interest in continuing to read entire markets.

I do admit to being a finnicky reader. The difference, though, in how I feel about my usual go-tos now — as opposed to a couple of years ago — is in regards to how publishing targets children and adolescents.

I’ve posted here before about how, somewhere around 2015, most YA novels started portraying parents or parental figures as ineffectual at best, and downright neglectful or abusive, or just dead and gone, at worst. As a parent myself, who knows lots of other moms and dads, I find the notion that all teenagers are left to fend for themselves simply ridiculous, unrealistic, and even harmful to portray so frequently. Now this perspective has spread to MG as well — last year, fed up with YA, I tried a number of MG titles, in which…all the parents were dead, or totally neglectful, and…the tweens were left to fend for themselves.

On the one hand, I can appreciate that “coming of age” tropes often rely on a youngster being put in a situation where they have to behave with some maturity and not wait for the adults to save the day. HOWEVER. There is a massive, important difference between kids trying to take responsibility, either to help their families or friends, or to prove they’re growing up (usually it’s a combination), and the adults getting to them before it’s too late — and the kids being expected to do everything on their own.

I know we’re not supposed to talk about Harry Potter right now, but one of my lasting, enduring warm fuzzies for HP is the way Sirius and Lupin and the Weasleys tried to stop the kids from getting into trouble — and when they got in trouble anyway, the adults would come to rescue them. In the last 10 or so months, I’ve read easily half a dozen titles where protagonists as young as *12* were shown to be more competent and mature than ANY of the adults in the stories, and that stretches credulity just a little TOO far.

What is this trend in publishing? “See, kids, you don’t need your parents, you’re already smarter than them, anyway!” Isn’t that a pretty dangerous and socially irresponsible message to put out there? Along with being patently incorrect — as millions of teachers, pediatricians, and moms and dads will tell anyone who listens.

So, I’m beginning to wonder: If YA and MG are going the route of making parents unnecessary, what does this mean for the future of writing for children? Why are authors not allowed to present loving, caring, respectful parents for underage characters right now? Is the idea that all kids need to become much more “woke” than previous generations, so publishing will just focus on the non-racist, non-prejudiced, fully-inclusive messages that “have to get through”?

Well, let’s see: Most parents of kids who are presently in middle and high school, we’re GenX-ers or Millenials, and we were pretty “woke” to begin with. Many of us have already taught our kids not to judge other people based on race, gender, choice of spouse, nationality of origin, or religion and culture. But here’s the rub: We taught our kids these things. Children do not come into this world knowing everything of importance. How in the hell do book publishers think fictional youth are going to figure out the plot without guidance??

Doesn’t art imitate life? Or is the publishing business trying to edit how life works now?

If the latter is the case, I find this profoundly disturbing, as a parent and as an author. This is a trend I strongly believe we should all buck. We should speak loudly against it by buying books for our children that feature responsible adults, and avoiding the opposite. We should flail in reviews and on blogs about authors who portray positive child-parent relationships, and yell our displeasure about those who don’t.

Now, this is all “just” my advice, and my own view — and realistically, money overtakes common sense. So, those of us who retain common sense need to start hitting the industry where it hurts — the wallet. And if I seem mean for indicating we should be hurting authors, too, by adopting my plan — well, yes, in a way, I am actually advocating such a move. Because common decency is also an endangered species in our society — and I feel indirectly slamming parents who want their offspring to be safe and well-cared-for as “lame” and “old-fashioned” to be wholly indecent.

Could I be reading too much into this subject, or over-reacting? I really don’t think so. I’ve been observing this trend grow in recent years, and it’s increased my concern steadily. This morning I read a thread on Twitter about how individuals on the autism spectrum tend to formulate correct theories about impending calamities for civilization based on the patterns we recognize and analyze.

This is my thread. This is the pattern I see, and it is alarming.

And I’m not going to be quiet about it.

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