Book Review: Fortitude Smashed by Taylor Brooke

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Summary:

After scientists stumbled across an anomalous human hormone present during moments of emotional intimacy, further research created the ability to harness the direction of living energy and pinpoint when two lines will merge. Personalized chips are now implanted beneath the thumbnails of every infant, where glowing numbers count down to the moment they will meet their soul mate. Fate is now a calculation.

But loving someone isn’t.

When Shannon Wurther, the youngest detective in Southern California, finds himself face-to-face with Aiden Maar, the reckless art thief Shannon’s precinct has been chasing for months, they are both stunned. Their Camellia Clocks have timed out, and the men are left with a choice—love one another or defy fate.


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Fortitude Smashed is the first and only book I have ever read for review that I re-read and took notes in the margins of with a pen and a highlighter. That I loved so much I wanted to wallow in on every level I would be allowed to. That’s been sitting on my nightstand for months just so I can keep savoring tiny moments.

I read the book in one go; I fell in love with Aiden and with Shannon, I fell in love with them falling in love.  The beauty of the conceit of fated people learning to be together in Brooke’s hands is this: These men are both ready and not, are willing and unwilling, and prickly but open. Their Rose Road gives them the space to struggle, as we do, but with the safety of understanding that this is meant. In this way, we are privileged to witness Aiden and Shannon as they go through a particular journey of personal growth that only this situation, this Rose Road, this circumstance could bring.

In Fortitude Smashed Brooke built a family of secondary characters that I both adored and was incredibly irritated by at times — in short, she gave these men family and friends that were fleshed out humans, not just foils or plot devices to move particular aspects of the story around. A great cast of secondary characters is hard to pull off and Brooke does it. I love the gender/sexuality/identity representation we see thus far in this series — I’m excited to see what comes in the next few, as I’ve seen the author address questions related to this in blog tour interviews and on her twitter. I’d like to articulate my feelings on this well, but my friend Annie at From Top To Bottom Reviews has done a better job of capturing it here in her review.

I read this book the first time fully knowing there was even more to the story under the layers Brooke created, but unable to stop because I was so caught up in the story. The point of this being: if you don’t feel like you want to do any literary analysis to enjoy the shit out of a beautiful book, you don’t. This book, I promise, will be a lovely experience regardless.

That said…the first time I read Fortitude Smashed, I knew it was special. I knew I loved it a few pages in, but it was on page 26 when Aiden first speaks to the Empty Man that I knew that what Brooke is crafting in this series is literature.

“Aiden thought the heart of the world, like fate, was buried in the sea and, despite his hunger, he would never find it.” (26)

Fortitude Smashed is filled with some really heart stopping prose. I mean, the kind of phrase turning that makes you stop and re-read just to enjoy the sheer poetry of it. None of Brooke’s words or images function as still art alone. Rather, she deploys every image with precision.

“Spread out on the bed with a blush creeping from his chest to his face, Aiden was still a cluster of knives. Shannon’s willingness to bleed defied every shred of control he had left.” (135)

The second time I read this book, I had a pen, a highlighter, and lots of quiet. I savored it. I really let myself look at how Brooke used images, names, words, flowers to tell us more about Aiden (whose name, consequently means “little fire” or “ardent”) and Shannon (whose name means “wise river” or “possessor of wisdom”) (I’ll just let you sit in that lovely tidbit for a moment, take it with you when you read the book and it’ll just add a lovely layer).

Brooke’s use of metaphor and imagery, particularly in reference to the two pieces of art, Fortitude Smashed and Catalyst, as well as the Empty Man Aiden meets on the beach at the beginning and near the end of the novel, are brilliantly situated, used, and executed.  We begin the book with Aiden and Shannon meeting just as Aiden is attempting to steal Fortitude Smashed,  a piece of art made of flowers and flower parts (lilies, dandelion and baby’s breath, all of which represent particular things. For example, lilies represent restored innocence after death). Aiden later tells Shannon he wanted to steal it because it reminded him of himself. When Shannon goes to buy it for him, after they’ve fallen in love, he actually sees it for the first time, and in it:

“…a containment of life in death in one piece…The lily’s stem was snapped from the rest of the petals, which gave the flower a sense of detachment. It was nature’s grenade in the midst of detonating, a slow-motion explosion…” 147

It is in this moment that Shannon really understands — this was who Aiden was in the moment they met. This is how Aiden understood and saw himself.

As fate would have it, Shannon is unable to buy Fortitude Smashed — instead he buys another piece, which we don’t get to see until the end of the book: Catalyst, which is made of ivy and dandelion, calla lily and tulip: flowers that represent youth, rebirth, perfect love, fidelity, affectionate attachment. What I loved so deeply about this is that Brook doesn’t tell us any of this — she doesn’t give the reader the meanings. She’s given the reader gifts inside her prose. Aiden and Shannon’s struggle to understand, walk, and love one another as their Rose Roads is done gorgeously, with care and depth and understanding. And underneath it all Brooke infuses her language and images with depth and symbolism that make the story all that much richer.

Before I finish with my high high praise for an #ownvoices story about mental illness, I want to go back to the Empty Man and how he functions as a catalyst at the beginning of the story when Aiden is really struggling with the idea that his Rose Road is a cop; when he’s struggling with his self worth and his demons; when we’re learning that despite his hard exterior, Aiden is terrified of not finding his heart. How deeply he wants that Rose Road and love.

“‘Someone told me I would eat the heart of the world one day,’ Aiden said….’I’ve always loved the world, but I never thought I’d find the heart of it, the best of it, the center of it. I did though. I found it,” he added quickly. ‘Or it found me, I’m not sure which.’

‘I don’t know either, but you’ve completely consumed it.’

Aiden offered a shy smile, one of his gentle rarities, and he kissed Shannon again.” (315)

To summarize there, thank you Taylor, for this really heart wrenching, human, gorgeous love story.

And now, the part I really, really want people to leave with. This is an #ownvoices story in regards to mental health rep, with both Brooke (author) and Aiden having mental illness.  Personally, as someone who also not only struggles with but survives with mental illness, Aiden’s story and representation meant the world to me. Shannon doesn’t cure Aiden. Fate, love, romance, sex — none of it “fixes” Aiden –– because there’s nothing to be fixed. Aiden is beautifully imperfect, he’s human, he has a mental illness, but he isn’t his mental illness. People living with depression or bipolar, with dysthmia or cyclothemia (me) or any other number of MI — our MI’s don’t define us. Stories where love “cures” or “fixes” characters with MI really bother me because that’s not how life works. My husband loves and supports me, his presence has helped save my life, but at the end of the day, I save my life. I make it through each day. I am the center of my survival and recovery. Brooke writes a love story with healing, with hope, and where the characters are ultimately the primary agents of change and wellness in their own lives, which they then bring to each other and their love. I can see this theme in Daisy’s story; I can see this agency in Chelsea’s story — I look forward to what Brooke will do with them in future books in this series with utter trust in her skill.


About the Author:

After fleshing out a multitude of fantastical creatures as a special effects makeup professional, Taylor turned her imagination back to her true love—books. When she’s not nestled in a blanket typing away on her laptop, she can be found haunting the local bookstore with a cup of tea, planning her next adventure, and fawning over baby animals.

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Book Review: The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths and Magic

rules and regsSummary: 

Desperate to pay for college, Bridger Whitt is willing to overlook the peculiarities of his new job—entering via the roof, the weird stacks of old books and even older scrolls, the seemingly incorporeal voices he hears from time to time—but it’s pretty hard to ignore being pulled under Lake Michigan by… mermaids? Worse yet, this happens in front of his new crush, Leo, the dreamy football star who just moved to town.

Fantastic.

When he discovers his eccentric employer Pavel Chudinov is an intermediary between the human world and its myths, Bridger is plunged into a world of pixies, werewolves, and Sasquatch. The realm of myths and magic is growing increasingly unstable, and it is up to Bridger to ascertain the cause of the chaos, eliminate the problem, and help his boss keep the real world from finding the world of myths.


Purchase Links:

Interlude Press Webstore // Amazon // Barnes and Noble // Apple // Target // Kobo // Smashwords // Book Depository // Indiebound


F.T. Lukens is an author that never disappoints. Her Broken Moon Series (The Star Host and Ghosts & Ashes) remain absolute favorites of mine. Lukens is truly gifted with prose style that not only builds worlds effortlessly, but that create clear pictures for the readers. There’s an ease to her style that creates a cinematic experience for the reader.

The very first page of this book had me laughing out loud. Bridger’s internal monologue builds his character from the start. Bridger is immediately endearing. He’s clever and also very much a teenager. Lukens captures the feeling of adolescence — Bridger’s struggle with his sexuality as he begins to sort it out, his loneliness, his fears and insecurities — balancing them with his humor and to be frank, downright adorable self. It’s impossible not to root for him.

The tensions and development of Briger’s relationships throughout are handled beautifully. I clearly felt his fear of coming out to his mother and how the distance between them contributed to his loneliness. The friendship that blossoms from his work with Pavel brought tears to my eyes. Pavel is strange and changeable, but the affirmation and acceptance he brings to Briger was so necessary. I really appreciated that Lukens gave Briger an adult to help guide him and to show him support in his times of anxiety and the painful struggle of a difficult transitional age. Balancing new relationships, a new job, and Briger’s struggles felt very age appropriate. The way in which he began to build a relationship with Leo foiled with his falling out with his best friend (name) bring to mind how it felt to be seventeen and figuring out navigating love and friendship.

Additionally, there are the myths and magic. I loved that Lukens balanced a coming of age story that was so relateable with this magical world. There was no part of introducing or immersing the reader in this world that felt cumbersome. Here we have world building executed by a very skilled reader: no clunky exposition, no moments that dragged as the reader navigated her world.

The resolution of the plot regarding the increased appearance of mythical and magical creatures felt a little rushed, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this novel at all. There’s a quality to Bridger and the humor infused throughout reminded me of David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, but on it’s own terms.

For readers who want YA fiction that captures the ups and downs, the insecurities and joys of adolescence, this book is a must.  I could not recommend it more.


 About the Author: 

F.T. Lukens is an author of Young Adult fiction who got her start by placing second out of ten thousand entries in a fan-community writing contest. A sci-fi enthusiast, F.T. loves Star Trek and Firefly and is a longtime member of her college’s science-fiction club. She holds degrees in Psychology and English Literature and has a love of cheesy television shows, superhero movies, and writing. F.T. lives in North Carolina with her husband, three kids, and three cats. Her first two novels in the Broken Moon series, The Star Host and Ghosts & Ashes, were published by Duet Books.

 

 

Book Review: And it Came to Pass by Laura Stone

LGBT Mormons,November Policy,gay mormons,gay LDSThis book…wow I cannot say enough. I’ve read everything Stone has written, and loved it. Stone is an incredibly talented author — the kind you drop everything for when a new book comes along — but this story is a level above.

It’s clear that this particular topic is very, very close to her heart. Her passion and fight here rings throughout. Adam’s torment, his confusion, his disconnect from faith and the longing he won’t allow himself to feel is so rich, I ached for him. The development of his and Brandon’s love unfolds gorgeously, painfully, so very honestly.

The moment when Brandon shares the questions he has with his faith and how this unlocks Adam’s anxieties but also wonder is powerful as hell. All of the things Adam has locked down, all of his beautiful self that’s been crushed out of him — watching them rise to the surface is like watching someone come awake. It really felt like an honor to be a part of that story.

I must say, there’s such a lovely reverence in Brandon’s practice of faith here. In the idea of living a devotion and faith that involves questioning and wanting to learn and wanting to be open to possibilities. I’m agnostic personally, and I am not familiar with Mormon faith other than surface things, but I really love books and stories that handle faith beautifully, even if it means questioning, changing direction, or struggle.

This book is very sensual and the build of tension between Brandon and Adam felt visceral. I DEVOURED this book in one sitting because I was so captured by their story.

Purchase at: Interlude Press || Amazon || Barnes & Noble || iBooks || Kobo

Contact the author: Website || Twitter || Facebook

Book Review: Storm Season by Pene Henson

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Blurb: The great outdoors isn’t so great for Sydney It-Girl Lien Hong. It’s too dark, too quiet, and there are spiders in the toilet of the cabin she is sharing with friends on the way to a New South Wales music festival. To make matters worse, she’s been separated from her companions and taken a bad fall.

With a storm approaching, her rescue comes in the form of a striking wilderness ranger named Claudia Sokolov, whose isolated cabin, soulful voice and collection of guitars bely a complicated history. While they wait out the weather, the women find an undeniable connection—one that puts them both on new trajectories that last long after the storm has cleared.

 

*I was provided with a copy by Interlude Press in return for an honest review*

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Purchase at: Interlude Press / Amazon / Smashwords / Barnes and Noble / iTunes / Book Depository / Kobo / IndieBound

5 Stars

I have been so eagerly waiting for this novel for months. Henson’s previous novel, Into the Blue is a deep favorite of mine – both because she made me fall for the characters so easily, but because I am absolutely in love with her craft.

Storm Season is a gorgeous work of art. Here we have a plot that could easily devolve into a series of cliché tropes. Rather, Henson takes these themes and tropes: women who seem to be opposites at first glance; stranded in a cabin during a storm; the transformative power of particular human interactions, and makes them unique and believable and fresh.

Henson’s writing style is deceptively simple. She often employs short sentences, descriptions in what could easily be staccato or disjointed moment. Rather, she uses this skillfully to draw the reader in. It has the effect of stripping a layer of separation between the story and the reader. We are drawn into an intimacy with the story, whether it’s a description of the Australian bush or of two women falling for each other.

When we meet them, Claudie and Lien appear to be complete opposites. Henson takes us through discovering them, and them discovering themselves and each other, skillfully enough that we slide into the realization that these women are similar in so many ways; that circumstance (and Henson’s craft) foiled them in particular ways when we met them, but that at their hearts, they are beautifully compatible.

I don’t want to spoil the turn the story takes in it’s second half, but know that it is executed perfectly. By this point in the story, Henson has taken us beyond simply longing for Claudie and Lien to be together. We’re rooting for them as individuals who are growing just as much.

As with Henson’s previous novel, this book has a lovely diverse cast that is obviously thoughtfully included for the sake of story. These clearly would be Lien and Claudie’s people. This is a representation of a slice of life, and it easily, without fanfare, reflects diversity in life.  Love it.

Also, someone please donate money to my “I must go to Australia right now”, fund. Because a lifelong wish because an intense, burning need while reading this book. I fell in love with the landscape and people in this book. One day, hopefully, I’ll get to do it in real life. For now, I’ll revisit this book over and over, savoring every word.

Kirkus Review

This week I received just a lovely review from Kirkus (ahhh!!).

“Sierra has created a very natural and psychologically astute portrayal of a romantic relationship, by turns funny, delightful, & painful…A lovely, finely wrought romance that reminds us that to truly love another, we must know our own hearts.” 

For the full review, head on over here.

This book was hella hard to write, so this is just lovely validation, and I hope enticing for you all 😀

Idlewild is now available to pre-order from the IP Web Store and other online book retailers. Pre-order the print edition direct from IP and get the multi-format eBook free using the discount code IDLEWILD. Both print and eBook must be in your shopping cart for the code to be valid.

Furthermore, I am running a contest: email me proof of purchase (judemsierra@gmail.com) and you’ll get a personalized postcard from me, and will be entered to win a signed copy of Idlewild when it comes out (December 1st).

Five Stars: Into the Blue by Pene Henson

Into the Blue (eBook package)

A while I promised a review of Pene Henson’s Into the Blue, which has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly as well as excellent reviews from Romantic Times and USA Today — so well deserved!

Into the Blue is the moving story of long time best friends Tai and Ollie, who grew up surfing the North Shore of Oahu together. This book is Henson’s debut novel; it’s beautifully written and aches with the complexities of the protagonists’ stories. Their history and friendship is handled with great skill. There is never a moment when the forward progress of the story is bogged down by exposition that fills us in on the past. Instead we are treated into an inside view of their found family (their roommates Hannah and Sunny, and Ollie’s little brother Jamie) through the story, within it. It is immediately clear that Ollie and Tai have a very special friendship. Our perception of how special becomes more clear as we get to know Ollie, who is by turns prickly and unsure, who has a hard time with other people but who is quietly magnetic and lovable, even when it’s hidden from everyone but those who know him best. He’s foiled beautifully against Tai, who is magnetic as well but also magnanimous and outgoing. Together they make sense; when their relationship takes a turn from friendship to lovers, there is something between them that intrinsically works, even when we can clearly see them testing and blundering through situations of their own making.

I mentioned the beautiful writing; the landscape that Henson places her characters in is so vibrant. There’s such attention to detail. I felt transported – this book is a wonderful getaway. The sense of pause, that in between, that moment in their relationship where they can be something other than the friends they always have feels like a treasure and privilege to witness.

While Tai was a joy to read, Ollie was, for me, a revelation. I love his complexity and reticence. I love how he’s portrayed, like the world doesn’t always fit him, or like he’s not sure how his edges fit into the world. This is the second book this year I’ve read with a demisexual character and Henson handles his truth and story very carefully and thoughtfully. She also handles Tai’s progression through their relationship deftly – we get a good sense of how Tai packed the potential for feelings away when he and Ollie were younger after Ollie’s mother passed away, how and why he chooses to go along with the change in their relationship, but also how his fear of falling for Ollie and harming their found family complicates everything once they are brought back to their regular lives. None of these are over explained or overwrought. Instead they feel natural, and like the mistakes young men make when they’re figuring out what they want in life and how to get it.  Henson’s trust in the reader and in her characters makes falling in love with them as they fall for each other feel utterly natural and earned.

Five stars—if I could, twenty stars – for this stunning debut. Five as well for the beautiful cover, which makes me want to run away to the nearest beach to re-read this book yet again.

For a chance to win a 25$ gift card from Interlude Press, check this postthis post out on the author’s blog about her virtual book tour!

Series Recommendation: Avon Gale’s Scoring Chances

So, if y’all follow me on twitter (@judesierra), you know that I have a long standing love affair with Avon Gale’s Scoring Chances series. I’ve read and re-read the first two books in the series (Breakaway and Save of the Game) at least five times — no exaggeration.

This series follows hockey players (OMG HOCKEY ROMANCE, YAS) who play in the ECHL. I’ve been lucky enough to get an advance copy of her newest addition to the series, Power Play.

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I have so much love for this series, and this book was such a great addition. Gale has a gift with character voices: they are always clear and unique and each character is so well written. They’re flawed and funny and quirky and passionate and so deeply lovable.

Power Play is the story of Max Ashford and Misha Samarin, who are paired to coach the worst team in the ECHL, the Spartanburg Spitfires. They’re hired by a smarmy GM who is more interested in getting his team attention through sensational media, and Max and Misha’s past offers ample fodder. Years ago, Misha accidentally caused a freak accident in a Stanley Cup playoff game that ended Max’s career. Determined not to let their past — or their GM — affect their desire to help their team, Max and Misha slowly navigate their relationship, from being coworkers to friends to lovers, over the course of the novel.

Max is like sunshine in this book, and it doesn’t feel contrived. I love that he went through something heartbreaking but found a way to manage it, live his live, redirect with a positive attitude. I really loved that, because that’s a really realistic option for dealing with setbacks, but it can seem insurmountable. It’s not! Max makes that clear.

Misha is complicated and deep; he has a painful backstory he doesn’t know how to handle, and lingering guilt over the accident that ended Max’s career. The way he comes to trust Max and forgive himself is handled beautifully, as is his commitment to protecting and caring for his players (AKA Isaac Drake, who will be featured in her upcoming novel).

I have a weakness for hockey romance and this series hits every sweet spot. I cannot wait for book four, Empty Net, which will be available in the fall. I might cry in the interim months. I so highly recommend this series and this book!

Reader Review

“How should one unpack blame? They both martyred themselves in youthful idiocy.  They both ruined something.  But when he thinks of the life Andrew shared with him – travel and jobs, and learning to connect with an audience through words – could he have achieved any of that? While holding Milo’s hand through anxiety and fear for years?  Each visit to a therapist, each time he talked himself through fear, learned to find that handle to hold onto inside himself, and the strength to be a better man: Milo knows he might never have done that with Andrew as his citadel of protection.” -What it Takes

I’d like to start by thanking Scout, who had an opportunity to read an advanced copy of What it Takes and who  said some absolutely lovely things about it. It is so nice to hear from readers and know that the things I worked so hard on were successful.

I loved that Scout pulled this quote from the book and also spoke to the fact that however painful Milo and Andrew’s separation was it was in no way an easy plot contrivance on my part: it was genuinely what these men needed in order to grow and become healthy.

I am so excited to hear from you guys — so excited to have this book in your hands. And above all, very thrilled that soon I’ll get to share this experience with you all. There are so many bits of myself — my experiences and heartbreaks and personal triumphs — in these men and their stories. It feels like an honor to get to share that with readers as well.

-J

What it Takes is currently available for pre-order and will be out Jan. 14th.

Enter to win a copy of What it Takes in the Goodreads giveaway!

Book Review: Bitter Springs by Laura Stone

Okay. M’kay. Let me just…take a breath.

There are so many things to love about this book. The prose is just beautiful. Stone has a gift for creating a rich backdrop for her stories so that the whole experience feels well loved and well rounded. I always learn from her stories. The level of detail and obvious commitment to research make this story shine and are a testament to how very much Stone cares for her craft.

Now let’s talk about what she crafted. Renaldo’s family is EVERYTHING. They made me miss my family so much. The love and care they have for each other was so palpable. Even when both Renaldo and Hank were terrified of what would happen, as a reader, I trusted that Renaldo’s family would love him unconditionally.

Renaldo…oh lord. What a sensual and romantic man. I wish I had a man in my life who spoke to me like he does to Hank.

And HANK. Oh man do I have a sweet spot for complicated, lovely men. His reserve, initially, spoke so well to his vulnerabilities without Stone every having to state them. She showed us. And as the story unfolds, watching Hank unfold, demonstrating how sweet he is, how much he needs and wants love…UGH. MY HEART. His commitment to being an honest and upstanding man was really moving as well.

Bitter Springs is currently available for sale at the Interlude Press webstore, Amazon, All Romance and many other retailers.

Something Like A Love Song Book Review

Something Like a Love Song (print edition)

This story is love as a verb. I don’t even know if that will make sense to anyone, but that’s what it is.

It’s an emotionally difficult book to read, but I applaud Burton for tackling such a difficult story and just executing it brilliantly. There was nothing prettied up for this book about Landon’s injury or recovery; it was slow and difficult and there were successes and setbacks.

I really appreciated that Burton paid such good attention to Dylan’s emotional journey, beyond caring for and loving Landon so much. With Landon’s physical trauma, it could have been easy to create a more formulaic book that focused just on him and gave him a perfect partner. But Dylan isn’t perfect, he is just as damaged by the events of that night as Landon. And together and individually these men have to learn how to heal and to move on.

Underpinning this book is a constant and very beautiful sense of love and community. Their families are beautifully flawed, but also come together and love and support both Dylan and Landon in individually helpful and at times frustrating ways — but ultimately, without that community, none of them would have gotten through the experience as well as they did.

I have to admit I’ve never had a family member suffer a brain trauma, but I have cared for a parent in end of life transition who had multiple brain tumors that changed him completely (both his personality but also his abilities) and his decline was very painful to watch. I felt so much understanding and honesty and care from Burton for her characters, as well as honest portrayal of what people who love someone but are watching this happen to a family member/loved one are going through.

The icing on the cake is Burton’s writing which is clear, consistent, and lovely throughout.

Highly recommended, along with a box of Kleenex.

You can find Becca Burton here, and her books are available to order at

The Interlude Press bookstore (where you can currently get the paperback + e-book package for the price of the paperback, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, Smashwords, All Romance, the iBookstore, and an Indie Bookseller near you!