Saturday, May 30, 2020

#BookReview Van Helsing Academy by @StaceyONeale #SFF #Vampires #Shifters #Witches #YA

Review of:
Van Helsing Academy (YA Supernatural Rehab Book 1) by Stacey O'Neale

5 star rating image on the blog of @JLenniDorner

It's so nice to take a break from the world and enjoy a good book. Of course, the world has been pushing back - HARD- so it took me longer than usual to get to finish reading this book, and then my attempts to write the review were delayed by over a week. ๐Ÿ˜– 2020 man... I've known actual bears who were nicer.
emoji humor
Okay. Now that I've had a good laugh, on with the review!

This book was fun to read. I was a little confused at first as to what the Van Helsing Academy was, but I'm pretty sure it's like a juvenile detention facility for vampires, shifters, witches, and the occasional human teenager who works as a Protector of the Covenant (or Reaper). I'm not positive of the exact ages of those serving there, but it seems to be teenagers or teen-equivalent. A pleasant educational experience instead of more traditional punishment. That might seem lenient until you find out that most of the students there are innocent. (It's a place one is "sentenced to" rather than a place you "apply for the opportunity to attend." Though, 20% in, the main character states that the place is not a prison, so that point has been driven home.)

I would recommend this book who enjoy Young Adult speculative fiction/ urban fantasy with a bit of mystery and a touch of paranormal romance. I enjoy reading these types of books, especially as I am a speculative fiction author. The Oglala Lakota tribe is mentioned in the story in a fairly positive light, and I appreciate that.

The main character has her ankles shackled and hands cuffed behind her back, a practice outlawed in some real-world areas, which showed me how harshly they treat even juvenile offenders prior to a hearing.

One of my favorite parts in the book reminds me of a scene in the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. (The roommate jokingly asks if the MC has killed anyone today. The MC says she hasn't but that there's still time. In the 10 Things movie, the dad asks if Kat made anyone cry today, and Kat responds that she hasn't but it's only 4:30.)

At 74% in, I honestly thought someone else would turn out to be the villain, based mostly on who mentions the use of wall chains the most, but I was wrong. I kept turning the pages because there are two mysteries at play- the one that's obvious from the start and one that comes out later. (I'm excited for book two because of that second mystery.)

I love how the book included a discussion of the different types of attraction. The book has a really great cover that certainly matches the story. The title obviously works well. Some nudity and intimacy is woven into the book, but it's on par with other YA novels. I didn't find any editing mishaps.

Not judging others without getting to know them feels like the theme of this book. I imagine Kiera was the most fun character for the author. The order of everything in the story makes sense, and each scene had a good cause and effect to roll to the next. I could relate to being punished when I hadn't broken a rule. The setting sounds like such a beautiful place, which is such a contrast to real-life juvenile rehabilitation detention centers, it really cemented how different the academy is meant to be.

Characters who love pink = Van Helsing Academy by @StaceyONeale and Fractions of Existence by @JLenniDorner * Pepto Bismol

The character Kiera reminded me of my spouse, based on the enthusiasm for helping a relationship bloom; but also reminded me of my Existence character Jez thanks to a mutual love of pink decor. The descriptions of Sacha remind me of my descriptions of my Existence character Heath. (Our books don't have much in common beyond supernatural characters. Yet somehow, it reminds me of my fictional people! This is part of why I loved the book so much.)

It holds a mirror up to society in that there are real-life people who have been punished for crimes they didn't commit, for wrongs that aren't really their fault. I bet this flame will be fanned in the second book, and I'm looking forward to that.

I've been on Stacey's Squad for several years, and love that her newsletter comes to me on Goodreads. That is how I received a free copy to read and review honestly.

Book Two is coming August 25! It's on my Amazon Wishlist.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

How would you describe a fluid character look #writetip #writingcommunity #writingquestion

I'm in a discussion about the look of a certain character. The villain would be good-looking if not for their evil choices. To me, this makes sense. I've met people who could be good-looking, but they've done so many horrible things that it shows on them. Maybe it's more of a feeling, something in your instincts that keep you from feeling attraction. Except actors can do it.

Here's a good-looking James McAvoy.

(Wikimedia Commons
File: James McAvoy by Gage Skidmore 2.jpg - Wikimedia Commons - Labeled free for reuse)

Is it the hair?
 Nope. Still goodlooking.

Ah! Now we're getting somewhere. This guy isn't good-looking.

Hollywood does it with women too. I could drop examples all day long.

But how does a writer describe this? Without referencing movies or actors. Someone who has pleasing facial features, but there's something that keeps them from being good-looking. Some darkness in the eyes, the way they move their face, there's just something.

Or, do only a few people see what I'm talking about?

Have you ever looked at a picture of someone from history and thought, "Wow, that person is incredibly good-looking," and then found out they did something deplorable? Or do you see the pictures and think, "This person is almost good-looking, but there's something keeping me from feeling attracted or recognizing the beauty"?

This blog post is a two-part question.

1) Do you recognize evil in someone when you see it, and find it unattractive?
2) How would you describe that? 

Original: ~ One of the captors who held the girl's chains, a young man who would be quite desirable if not for his villainous choices, chuckled at the question. ~

Improved attempt 1: ~ One of the captors who held the girl's chains, a young man who was handsome behind his aura of evil, chuckled at the question. ~

Improved attempt 2: ~ One of the captors who held the girl's chains, an almost desirable young man if not for the hatred radiating from his grin, chuckled at the question. ~

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Words Matter #pandemic

3 died. 300 died. 30,000 died.

For some psychological reason, people don't feel a connection to numbers. Hearing a number died doesn't break most people. 8,675,309 people could die and there would be a Forest Gump meme with him crying "Jenny, no! Not Jenny! Why?" That would be over eight million dead people and it would be met with a meme.

What if the news were required to have each name and a dozen words about the person, for each person that died that day?

"Virginia Mathew. A school teacher of twenty years, best known for her lemon bars."
"Timothy Smith. Purpleheart recipient, 1973. Manager of a sports equipment store. Adopted ten dogs."
"Robert Bigname. The inventor of the whisper toilet seat. Volunteered at two homeless shelters."
"Jane Miller. Children's book author. Crocheted blankets that won blue ribbons at seven fairs."
"Baby Girl Jones. Three hours old. Weighed six pounds, three ounces. Nineteen inches. Blue eyes."
"Alex Sturn. State spelling bee champion. Third place in the second-grade talent show."

What would happen if every day we read those words instead of "90 cases dead from Covid-19 in this state today"? What if you saw a name that almost matched yours? Someone who did your job? Someone who sounded like one of your loved ones?

Imagine those numbers attached to names.

It's not difficult for those of us who have lost loved ones to this to think this way.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Internet Interactions of Interest 1

Stuff from around the Internet I've encountered lately:

This post made me think about my goals again.

I was peer-pressured into doing this.

As a writer, I find this knowledge valuable.

Here's a writer shaving her head. She has other videos about walking, motivation, and YouTube. But, since I haven't seen a lot of people shave their heads because hair can clog a drain and the pandemic makes calling a plumber a bad idea ๐Ÿ˜–, I thought I'd share this gem.

New Team Member at Operation Awesome! Please go over and say hello. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

A free book! I reviewed it on Goodreads and BookBub.

And WRiTECLUB 2020 is still going on. There are chances to win giftcards for voting. You should check it out.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

You Beneath Your Skin #BookReview #WeNeedDiverseBooks #DebutAuthor #boutofbooks

#BookReview #WeNeedDiverseBooks #DebutAuthor

5 star rating image on the blog of @JLenniDorner

YOU BENEATH YOUR SKIN by Damyanti Biswas
A Gripping Urban Contemporary Crime Novel

This book is flawless. You should read it to open your eyes. (But you probably shouldn't read it before bed. Okay, I shouldn't have read it before bed - you do you.)

It's more than a crime novel, though there is a "whodunnit" mystery to be solved. You Beneath Your Skin is also about relationships, families, secrets we keep and the impact they have, how we see ourselves, and a lesson in knowing people as they are instead of who we think they are or should be. This story gives a lot.

It also takes a lot. Strong trigger warning for the first-hand account of violence suffered by the main character. The monsters in this book are terrifying because all of the horrible events on these pages actually happen in real life all the time. There is violence against women, mentions of abuse, investigations of rape and murder, sex-trafficking type forced prostitution, drugs, corruption, and even a dead puppy.  This is not a relaxing read. If you're looking to escape, this book will give you no pardon. And just when you think the author has dropped as many horrors as one book can take, she throws you another curveball. There are some happy scenes, there is some romance, there's even a happily-ever-after of sorts-- but make no mistake, this is not a happy book. I daresay even Stephen King would have nightmares. It is that well-written.

The book also has some excellent feminism (or equalism). For example, a character points out that she pays taxes (which fund public services, such as the police), yet she is supposed to stay home every night, something men are not cautioned to do.

You Beneath Your Skin #excerpt #feminism #equalism

This book was added to my TBR after I interviewed the author for the Operation Awesome blog's Debut Author Spotlight. We have followed each other's blogs for years. I knew she was an activist who makes a positive difference in this world. My review is unrelated to this. I bought a copy in April. I hope there will be more novels by Damyanti Biswas for me to read someday.

You Beneath Your Skin - Purchased on Amazon on April 3, 2020 @JLenniDorner

The protagonist and (eventually revealed) antagonist both hold a parent responsible for a negative impact on their lives. That's how good writing works, the related inner conflict of the opposing characters. And, like any good HEA, the protagonist forgives and overcomes, but the antagonist is anchored down by it. The antagonist believes if a parent has done something wrong, it's a free pass to do wrong as well.

I do not read many crime, true crime, or mystery books. I also do not read many books where there is another language slipped in every so often. (My e-reader failed most of the translations. A lot of it was poetry. There was nearly always enough context to get the idea of the meaning.) The language inclusion made it feel more real, more like India (a country with amazing diversity). By chapter 24, 42% into the book, I had figured out who planned the crime against the protagonist, but I was wrong about who executed it, and was slightly wrong about the motive. (This is why I don't read a lot of mystery books - I've deconstructed so many of them that I tend to figure out the antagonist before the halfway mark.) The end of chapter 28 made me think I was wrong about who the main antagonist was, but really I was more wrong about the exact motive.

Picking my favorite excerpts without spoilers is difficult. There's part of a line from early in the book, a setting description, that I really enjoyed. A character wishes to update a place, "more software, fewer files lost or chewed up by termites." It's so much more descriptive than just calling the place old and run down. I love it.

You Beneath Your Skin excerpt #setting

Another part I love was the advice to be like a boat that cannot sink unless there is a leak.
You Beneath Your Skin #excerpt

Chapter 45 has an incredible twist and profound words. I cannot share that excerpt because it's packed with spoilers, but it's amazing. The title of the book makes perfect sense by that point. "One splash of acid had changed so many lives." That line from the book is a tagline for the whole story.

This book is a tragedy, realistic fiction, is probably controversial to some people. There are plot twists. It's absolutely chilling, scary, haunting, thrilling, action-packed, and fast-paced. The author comes off as an authority on the subject who has done intense research. You Beneath Your Skin is diverse in that it's set in India with characters of various backgrounds (including partially white-American) religions and economic status, and also has a character on the Autism spectrum. There is a lot of compassion written into the scenes that detail a level of poverty most people cannot imagine. It is listed in the genres of Asian American Literature and Asian Literature.

I learned some Indian culture from this book (and Google). I had never heard of a police Sumo (it's a type of vehicle), and I have never seen a tea stand (and they say the number of Starbucks in the United States is too high?!?). I had never heard of someone biting on tissues, putting a tissue into the mouth. (That seems like it would stick and breakdown.) Before reading this book, I never thought about who pays the bill in India for the medical cost of an acid attack. (So odd that criminals are rarely required to incur the medical costs of their crimes.)

You Beneath Your Skin #healthcare note

I also learned that "azaan" is the Muslim call for prayer, a word I hadn't learned before. The end of chapter 36 used the term "beda garak," which I'm guessing is the name of a skin condition, but I couldn't find anything on Google.

Something that blew my mind was a character recalling giving a drop of honey to a newborn. Honey can cause infantile botulism and botulism toxicity, so it's amazing to me that such a practice would and could still go on today.

You Beneath Your Skin #note
A rare line from the book that has a different meaning in an American dialect. "All but covered her eyes" would be sunglasses that are too small, "covered all but her eyes" would be the medical outfit worn in the scene.

The book opens with an action scene. It draws you in with questions about that scene, and then anchors you with characters to care about before the predominant crime takes place. The third paragraph of chapter 53 had a wonderful example of a secondary character changing, becoming enlightened, and getting on the path to becoming a better person. Well-done. A lot of this book was hard for me to read because it was so powerful, so impactful, so real and so reminiscent of bad memories; yet it was worth it and I'm glad I read it.

Have you ever read a book that was difficult, emotionally, to get through?

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

#IWSG Writing Rituals

May 6 question - Do you have any rituals that you use when you need help getting into the ZONE? Care to share?


I wrote a post about a book last month. It not only gets writers past "block," but also suggests some rituals. So, if anyone is struggling with the question, maybe check that out.

I like to have a cup of coffee and reread the last scene I wrote, then check any notes I have for what I'm about to write, then get to it. Lately I've also had to hang a little sign stating I'm writing so my Snookums doesn't interrupt as much. #QuarantineLife

meme #quote This life is a limited time offer

Sunday, May 3, 2020

#atozchallenge Reflection

Reflection #atozchallenge 2020

I enjoyed this year's challenge. My theme was my author brand, which forced me to think about what that means. It was the most challenging theme I've undertaken yet, but it was worth it.

Also, during the challenge this year, I published a book, was interviewed, won the WEP flash fiction challenge, and went to every blog on the Master List.

Here's what I know from my Master List blog hopping:
  • 1- All letters in 1 post ๐Ÿ˜ฎ
  • 2- Closed to comments ๐Ÿ˜–
  • 2- Blogs that signed up using the example site instead of their own blog. ๐Ÿ˜•
  • 4- Blogs that went to their dashboard (where blogs are written) instead of to their actual blog ๐Ÿ˜”
  • 6- Duplicate blogs ๐Ÿ˜ฌ
  • 6- Blogs with a duplicate HyperText Transfer Protocol -- had "http//" instead of "http://" -- making it look like there was no blog because the colon was missing (fixable if you noticed it in the address bar
    Missing colon, two HTTP HyperText Transfer Protocol.
  • 14- Couldn't comment on the blog itself (errors, "sign-in" required, etc) ๐Ÿ˜ญ
  • 92 - Signed up but didn't post ๐Ÿ˜ฐ

If you can't find your comment from me, and you're on the Master List, PLEASE let me know.

@JlenniDorner April 2020 blog stats
April 2020 Blog Stats



J Lenni Dorner~ Co-host of the #AtoZchallenge, Debut Author Interviewer, Reference& Speculative Fiction Author

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