Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: The Inner Kingdom by S.R. Gibbs

The Inner Kingdom


S. R. Gibbs


April, Angie, and Ashley are just three ordinary adopted sisters, just trying to survive their senior year in high school. They live by four simple rules: They must not tell anyone that they are adopted sisters, sit at the same lunch table, speak more than necessary to one another during school hours, and the most important one, Never get involved in the problems of others.
The girls' rules no longer applied, when they are suddenly transported to a distant world; where they are welcomed as destined warriors, chosen at birth to save their world. In order to do this they will first have to journey to three of the four outer kingdoms, within six months to release their dragons, and defeat the evil Queen before she fully regains her strength, and continues the war she started over a hundred years ago.
Even in her weakened state the Queen will not make it easy for them, with the girls' sudden manifestation of special abilities, they discover what they were really meant to be. Faced with a chance to be able to return home. They are forced to make the decision to stay in the world where they've found love, friendship, and a purpose, or go back to a world, that tried to take away their destiny.



I received an ebook from the author in exchange for an honest review.

I started The Inner Kingdom right away. It was a quick read that moved the story along at a nice pace. I never found the story dragging or found myself waiting for more action or conflict. 

S.R. Gibbs fascinated me with her well developed fantasy world and the intriguing government within. The kingdom had one magical surprise after another. I absolutely loved the "celtas", an enchanted scribble on a wall or object that can open a space that wasn't there before, revealing anything from a bathroom to a magic portal. I've half a mind to start drawing celtas on my own walls, hoping they will open up to a well lit, walk-in closet. 

The story focuses on three sisters, Angie, Ashley, and April. Each girl has the makings of a relate-able, intelligent heroine, but the author only illustrates a few differences between them. I know one is rash and hot-headed, but I honestly wouldn't be able to tell you if it's Angie or April. Things get a little confusing as each chapter is narrated by a different girl, but their individual voices sound too similar to tell them apart. I kept having to flip back to the beginning of the chapter to remember which girl I was reading. The writing style just kind of seemed like I was listening to someone casually telling me something that happened to them. I wished there had been more description to make me feel like I was right along side the girls in the kingdom of Eupai. Maybe everything would have been less confusing if the book was just written in third person instead of switching characters every chapter. 

 I appreciated some mysterious characters, a budding romance, and the ending. After the climax, enough conflicts were resolved to make the book feel complete, yet left enough open to lead in to the sequel, Sapphire Kingdom. Each book after The Inner Kingdom will continue the story of the three Dragon Warriors, focusing on one particular girl in each book. 

3.5 stars


Wednesday, March 25, 2015


I want to use this blog as a platform to talk about something I know a lot of people struggle with: comparing themselves with others. 

I am not what you would call a competitive person. I hate sports. I hate contests. Gym class was a nightmare because I was always picked next to last because I was terrible at everything and terrified of being laughed at when I missed the ball. I hate being the center of attention and I cringe at the thought of being judged by my peers. - Something I have definitely had to overcome as an author. But none of that compares to having to face my biggest critic:


As if the world wasn't harsh enough, I sometimes find myself going through Pinterest and Facebook picking out fancy snapshots and glittering posts about someone's shining accomplishment and perfect life. My self worth is tainted by thoughts like:

"That girl you went to school with is already a stay at home mom with a huge house that always looks tidy. Why is your house so messy all the time?"

"Jane is on her third baby and just got her Masters. Why aren't you in school? You're so lazy. You should at least have another baby." 

"The Kinnley's are on vacation in Hawaii. You will never be able to afford that because you live paycheck to paycheck and always will."

"Suzie is always posting pictures of the cool places she takes her kids. You aren't a good mother because you don't take your daughter somewhere fun everyday. You don't spend enough time with your kid."

"So-and-so wrote a book and it was in stores a year later. You can't even write one novel in a year."

"This indie author got a movie deal just weeks after he published his book, while you just suck at life in general."

You get the idea. What's scary is that these people are my friends! (mostly) People I care about. This kind of thinking not only destroys my own self-esteem, but also the relationships I have with these friends. Self loathing turns to jealously very quickly. And then, not only am I down on myself, but lonely as well. And I have no one to blame, but me. 

Should I be mad at the Kinnley's because they worked hard saved for two years in order to enjoy a beautiful vacation with each other? Ridiculous right? Should I really be jealous of the author's movie deal? Maybe. ;) But will it in any way effect my own chances of success? Of course not. 

This kind of negative thinking can also go the other way. I used to say I loved shows like Teen Mom because the teens made me feel better about my life and the choices I have made. But is it really fair for me to sit back and judge anyone? Do I really have the right to look at someone elses life, someone who is struggling and down on their luck, and say I am better than them? No way. I certainly don't want someone thinking that about what I present to the world, so why should I?

For as much as you compare yourself to other people, there are others who are comparing themselves to the things you have. I can't tell you how many times I've been jealous of a friend who seemed to have it all, only to turn around and find out they most certainly didn't have it all, and were jealous of something I had all along. That's a very humbling experience and will definitely make you grateful for what you have.

Over the last few years I had felt that I had gotten this urge under control with the help of medication and changing my thinking habits. I may have been wrong. Just recently, it has slowly resurfaced with the release of my book and the birth of my daughter. It is hard not to compare yourself to others in your profession once in a while, but something I never, EVER wanted to happen was to compare my kid to someone elses. But that's exactly what's happened lately. 

At 15 months, we have been working diligently on her speech, but she still won't utter a word. When we encourage her to ask for her cup, for instance, she will either just moan or laugh at us. (little stinker) This never really bothered me until I saw a few of the other little kids younger than her babbling on, and when I saw a facebook video of a friend's 16 month old that is practically ready to finish writing her dissertation. I immediately started thinking there may be something wrong with my child, even though the doctor has assured me she is healthy and bright. I just need to remember my daughter is independent and does things when she is good and ready.

I believe this kind of thinking destroyed my chance of happiness and "blooming" for many years. I certainly don't want that to happen to my child. I don't want her to ever think this way and the best way for me to teach her is to not practice this way of thinking myself. It's hard, but if you remember what is important and focus on YOUR life, you won't have time to worry about what other people are doing. 

Some Things That Have Helped Me:

1. Counting my blessings

Some people may not think I have much, but I know that I have a lot of things others struggle to find. I have a beautiful family, an amazing daughter, and a hard working, faithful, loving husband. I have awesome friends and all the comforts and joys of advanced technology at my finger tips. The list goes on and on. And on. I start out the day thanking God for all of these things, ponder them at night, and remind myself of them through out the day as needed. This practice is a powerful tool that helps me become a happy person.

2. Just being a mommy

I always joke that I'm going to get in a car accident someday because I can't take my eyes off my cute daughter and pay attention to the road. It is the same in everyday life. I LOVE being her mom. When I'm taking care of her I don't have much time to worry about what that little voice says I should be doing instead. She is my whole world, and with that mentality, there isn't much room for comparison and negativity. 

3. Medication

Not everybody needs it, but for someone with a chemical imbalance in their brain, it really helps mediate my thoughts and emotions. I take Prozac for anxiety and depression. Without it, I can go from zero to "apocalypse" in about 4 seconds flat. The medication helps me process problems in a calm manner, and helps me to see things more rationally and logically. I notice that when I am on Prozac there is less of a chance of a friend's photograph of their new house screaming at me that I am a failure. 

4. Find the bright side.

There are very few situations I've found that you can't find something positive to focus on. Gotta work late? That overtime is going to be nice on the next paycheck. What should I spend it on?? Stuck in traffic? Might as well enjoy the music on the radio and daydream. Focusing on the positive is just another technique to shut out negative thinking, and, it works wonders. 


5. Take a Facebook break.

 There are days when social media just gets too overwhelming for my mental health and I just have to check out. I think this is a good practice for anyone really, even if you're not suffering from Comparison Syndrome. Get offline and into the real world for a while. Have lunch with a friend. Take a bubble bath. Go for a walk and talk with your neighbors or just walk in the woods, alone if you can. Spend some time in isolation if you have to, gather your thoughts, and get back to what makes you you. 


 More often than not, it's sitting down and actually writing that pulls me out of my funk. Whether I'm editing of writing something new, I'm able to go into my own world, with characters I "know" and I feel like I belong there. While I'm not a bestselling author, I believe it's safe to say I'm good at it, and by doing something I'm good at, I feel good about myself. Some people find solace in cooking, knitting, or sudoku. It doesn't have to be creative, but definitely make time for the things you are passionate about. It will enrich your life SO much. 

The bottom line is, everyone is good at something. We were designed that way. The world would be very boring if there were only one singer, one fashion designer, one photographer, one blogger. Find out what you're good at, what you love, and bless the world with your beauty. Who cares if the flower next to yours is taller or smells stronger? Your flower is a gift to the world and to hide it away only deprives the world of beauty. Don't waste your life and your talents wishing you were someone else. Use the time you have on this earth to bloom as big as you can and bless those around you.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Author Spotlight: John Cunningham

John Cunningham's beard once traveled back in time to challenge Aaron Burr to a duel. He declined. A writer since elementary school, John earned his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Lindenwood University in 2011. His short fiction appears in the Missouri Writer's Guild's "Storm Country" anthology published by Mozark Press, where it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives in St. Louis with his lazy Beagle, Cloey, where he works tirelessly to create the Ultimate Taco Recipe.


Broken Idols

The perfect rental house. A Mecca of debauchery for John Quinn and his three friends to live out their days as misfits and social exiles, and at $600 per month, it's a steal! When their war on societal convention pits them against the deeply established neighborhood criminal element, however, as well as a gang of miscreants with short tempers and aluminum baseball bats, the foursome quickly finds itself on the radar of the ubiquitous Officer Shannon Mitchell, a bully of a policeman who just happens to be the landlord. Against this backdrop of escalating violence, John must find a way to make peace with his ever-irritable adversaries and survive the battle of wills with Officer Mitchell if he hopes to win the girl and endure his roommates to keep the dream of the perfect rental alive. 

Your work has been compared to books like Catcher in the Rye. Did J.D. Salinger influence you at all in your writing? 

 Broken Idols is my Catcher in the Rye. Salinger epitomizes the coming of age story in his work, and I used it as a standard of measure, doing my best to incorporate some of the angst and disenfranchisement of Holden Caulfield. Though it may be arrogant, I’ve always wanted a reader to immediately associate the two works.

Tell us about your debut novel "Broken Idols".

Broken Idols is a coming of age story in a time without any true rites of passage. It explores what it means to find one’s place in the world, and what, if anything, that has to do with happiness. The idols that the title speaks of are the narrator’s dreams of a stable life, idylls that come into question continuously as his exposure to the “bigger picture” grows. Reduced to brass tacks, Broken Idols is a story about love, loss, society, and beer.

 Who is your favorite character in the book?

My favorite character would probably be Rudy Morris, the sagely advisor to the narrator. I had the most fun writing him. With the main cast, the characterizations were almost rigid, but Rudy was an opportunity to be free. He didn’t fit into any particular place, or any particular side, and his motivations were purely his own. He’s everything a sage, albeit a faulty one, should be: wise but not preachy, experienced but not flamboyant, motivated, empathetic, and, most importantly, flawed.


What obstacles did you have to overcome, if any, to write this book?

The events in Broken Idols are based, at least in part, on a true story. My biggest fear, and quite a challenge, was to keep this from being a literary “high five” to those involved. I believe a pitfall of many stories of this type is to write a novel, sitcom, movie, you name it, lauding the exploits of a group of partiers with no real world conflicts and no takeaway. The absolute most important aspect of this work was that it have a soul.  

Tell us about your furry sidekick in your author photo.

That demon-eyed dog is Cloey the Wonder Beagle. She’s found her way into many of my works in one incarnation or another, so I thought it only fair to include her in my author pic.

How did you discover that you were a writer?

If the answer to this question ever lacks mention of a wonderful or influential teacher, it’s incomplete. I was fortunate enough to have many.  In elementary school, I had the opportunity to take short stories that I’d worked on and have my teachers “publish” it, meaning they typed it out and brought it together with plastic binding. I still remember my very first. It was titled “Johnny the Shark” and I even illustrated it. All through primary and secondary school, there were teachers like that. History teachers that endured prose-like essays and thirty page pieces of crap posing as Halloween short stories. I have the utmost respect for teachers and would never have finished my novel without their knowledge and encouragement.

What is your favorite genre to read? Some favorite books?

 I love most genres, but I have a special place in my heart for sci-fi/fantasy. It’s my guilty pleasure, I suppose. Epic quests, larger than life characters, fantastical feats, magic and swords, all are near and dear to my heart. Choosing a favorite is a tall task indeed, but I think I’ll have to go with The Death Gate Cycle by Margaret Weiss & Tracy Hickman. This series of seven books is unequalled in world building, and the characters and story itself is as entertaining as it is timeless.

What makes a book worth writing?

If a writer wants to work on a novel about eating a tuna sandwich, then go for it! Finding a readership may be tough, but art isn’t an Excel spreadsheet. It’s an act of creation. If there is no love in that creation, it shows. For me, the only real criterion for making a book worth writing is an insatiable idea. An idea that’s there in the morning and hasn’t gone away two weeks later when seventy others have come and died the death of cassette tapes. An idea that makes you excited to write, to run to the notepad or computer and work feverishly to get it all out. 

Any special way you come up with your ideas or break writer's block?     

 I do have the usual inspirations—people I know, characters I’ve read, that sort of thing—but the bulk of my ideas just appear without notice. It’ll come in the form of an awesome title, or a single line, or even a string of dialogue. Sometimes it’s just a “what if a, then b…” sort of thing. Asking why really helps when ideas get thin. Once I have something to work with, I just build.  To combat writer's block I take a shower, plant tomatoes, sleep, anything to take my mind off of that devil blank page. Then, I free associate. Mental vomit is some of the best stuff. The most important thing I’ve found, though, is to hold on to all of it. Write down anything and keep it, even the stuff that seems too stupid to actually come to fruition. The events I based Broken Idols on took place nearly fifteen years ago, and I’ve been keeping notes and ideas for the entire time.

What do you hope readers will take away from "Broken Idols"?

The topic of race is an important one in my book. Broken Idols explores both overt and subtle means of racism and the harmful effects labeling can have on a person and a community. My hope is that readers will realize that life isn’t a black thing or a white thing. People are people, and ultimately, it’s not about a stereotype passed down from parents, but who someone is on a fundamental level—their values, traits, actions—that serves as a true measure. 

 Cool Ranch Doritos or Nacho Cheese?

  Nacho Cheese!

What can we expect from you in the future?

 A lot. I’ve currently got a serial blog I’m working on detailing the exploits of an everyman and his dog as they try to navigate strange and magical lands. Also, I’ve started brainstorming and preliminary writing on my next novel, which, with my love for the Harry Hole series, will be a thrasher-mystery in that vein. 

Broken Idols is now available on Amazon, B&N.com, and Kindle. You can follow John on Facebook and check out his blog: The Neurotic Introvert 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Big News for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers!!!


now available for FREE


Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service through Amazon which gives you access to over 700,000 titles to read and download for free, including popular titles like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings. Some audio books are also included. The service costs $9.99 a month and is basically Netflix for books. :) Right now they are offering a 30 day free trial and Onyx Moon is now included in their selection!


You don't even need a Kindle device to download the ebook of Onyx Moon. The Kindle App is free for any smart phone or tablet! I greatly prefer physical books, but it's so great to be able to access a book anywhere, in case you are on the go and just can't put it down! I love modern technology! Yay!

Clink the link below and explore the Forbidden Wood today!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Book Review: Alora by Megan Linski

Amazon Description

For hundreds of years, Alora has been queen. Ruling over the most remote regions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she spends her summers riding upon a wild stallion, her winters as a winged wolf, never aging, forever at an eternal sixteen.

This is what it means to be an Anmortal.

Centuries pass until the arrival of something new in the woods, a small boy named August. Alora watches through the years as the child grows into a young man. Slowly she finds herself falling for him, unable to tame her wild heart. Madly in love, she ignores the fact that humans and Anmortals can never be together...a mortal cannot love a creature that lives forever.

Distracted by romance, Alora doesn’t notice that there is a monster lurking in the shadows, a hunter who is determined to make Alora his prize. With no time left to run and no way out, Alora is about to make the most challenging decision of her life. What's more important...her true love, or her freedom?


I snagged up an ebook copy of Alora on my Kindle after I did an interview with the author Megan Linski. You can find that interview HERE. 

After reading the description, I was very excited to get into this. I was intrigued by the idea of the Anmortals; not only beautiful with eternal souls, but a second form for half the year. Alora's animal form was a majestic wolf with white swan wings. Not only can she roam the frosty terrain of Michigan's upper peninsula, but she can fly over the great lakes as well. Oh! And when she is human in the summer, she rides around the forest on her horse companion, Tanglemane! Pretty cool, right?
I just wish there had been more of them. As far as Anmortals go, Alora is pretty much it. There is one short flashback to her days with her Anmortal family, but that only left me wanting more. At first, Alora was not a character I could connect with easily. Because of her Anmortal status, she is gorgeous, unbreakable, overconfident, and a teensy bit arrogant. Basically flawless. She spends nearly a century wandering around by herself, away from humans and modern society. 

Until she meets a boy. 

For the first half of the book, the only real characters in the story are Alora and August. During the phase where they fell in love, the tantalizing descriptions kept me reading, but not much else. I felt like I my arm was brushing against pine needles and it was my toes that were squishing mud between them. But I just wish there had been some other characters, conflict, something....

Luckily, right smack dab in the middle of the book, things got interesting. FAST. Alora was thrown out of her element and into a world with technology and crowds of the humans she had stayed far away from her whole life. I actually remember the exact second I sat up and was like,"Yes! Okay, this is getting good." From there on out, the story was chuck full of character development, hard choices, a few twists, and a nasty villain. Linski breaks down her flawless character to the bottom of a soggy pit so that she can attempt to claw her way out. I very much enjoyed her journey and the peculiar relationship she develops with the antagonist. The ending had just the right amount of suspense and drama. I only wish somehow the beginning of the book could have somehow been more exciting like this!

I worry that some readers with less patience and less appreciation for elegant descriptive writing will give up on this daring story. Alora has shown me that sometimes it takes time to build up to something worth while. I was very happy I finished this book, but because of the slow pace for the first half, I am giving this book 3.5 stars. However, this book has plenty of 5 star reviews, so you may enjoy it more than I did overall. Megan Linski's next book, Kingdom From Ashes is set to release May 22. The description, which can be found on Goodreads, sounds very promising and the book already has 5 star reviews.

3.5 Stars


Saturday, March 7, 2015

How I Review Books

I thought I would take a quick minute to explain my process when I review a book. Since the author put a lot of effort into their book, I like to keep that in mind before I slap it with some stars and call it a day. Please understand these are MY OPINIONS and I understand others may not share them. I imagine my scale is similar to how a lot of people review books, but here is a more detailed explanation of my rankings and how a book gets into that category:


5 Stars * * * * * 

Basically, this is the best book I've ever read. It's right up there with The Hunger Games, Stardust or The Sword of Truth novels. Not only is it intelligent and thought provoking, but an addicting read. There are little to no plot holes, intriguing characters, and is action packed. This book will have a space on my shelf and will definitely be read again.

4 Stars * * * *

 Most likely this book was very enjoyable, well written, hard to put down, but had something that was lacking enough for me to take away a star. Maybe the plot dragged in places or some aspect of the story just didn't seem believable; be it a character or a problem that was solved too easily. Some books I call my favorite that I would give only 4 stars are the Bloody Jack Series by L.A. Meyer, Hawksong, by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Cornerstone, by Kelly Walker, or the Wheel of Time Series.  These books also have a space on my shelf and will probably be read again. Eventually.

3 Stars * * * 

This book was probably a quick read that I enjoyed, but it didn't leave much with me, so I most likely will forget about it. Maybe it was well written, but it was a bit hokey or maybe there just wasn't enough to sink my teeth into. It's hard to even come up with an example for this rank because it just kind of falls in the middle. Not my favorite, but I didn't hate it either.

2 Stars * * 

Even though I didn't like this book, there was at least something that got me to the end. Perhaps a love story I was rooting for. Maybe a hook like, "How is our hero going to get out of this one?" Most likely, I really wanted to see where the author was going with this. There has to be a point to all this sometime and it must be a big one since there is so much build up. I find myself watching a lot of movies like this too. I am often left disappointed. Some books that fall into this category are Twilight (don't hate me) and The River Between by Jacquelyn Cook. It's safe to say there was not a lot going on in life when these books were read. 

1 Star * 

Poor little star. All alone. I never give lower than one star, because I feel every book published deserves at least one. Knowing the time, effort, and strength it takes to present your work, I feel I am obligated to say, "Congratulations! You wrote a whole book! Here is a shiny star just for you!" even if the story had nothing for me. Unfortunately, it just wasn't worth my time to finish.There are probably lots of people out there who enjoyed it. I'm just not one of them. Here's to you, (raises glass) Wanderlove by Belle Malory and Dune by Frank Herbert.


"And a half" Stars

There will be times when a book will fall somewhere in between and warrant an extra half of a star. If that is the case, I will post the half star on my blog but round up on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, since half stars are not an option.

I hope this helps you understand how I come up with my judgements for reviews. I love reading. I don't do it nearly as much as I want to and not half as much as I should. But when I do read a book, I love to tell people about it, whether I liked it or not!