#FridayReads: Bad Boy, by Elliot Wake

This past week I devoured Elliot Wake’s latest, Bad Boy. As usual, I stayed up late just so I could finish and man was it worth it.

I’ve been on a queer #OwnVoices fic kick lately. Not really on purpose—aside from the lesfic—but reading books featuring queer characters by queer authors feels like coming home, to me. There’s a big part of me that worries about losing my queerness because I married a dude. And I know, I need to shake that shit—especially because I’m the one always telling my lady bi friends that being with a guy doesn’t make them any less queer. Plus… I’m kind of a little rainbow-lonely in IRL. I live in a small town. Most of my LGBTQIA+ friends live in the city or have long moved on to bigger and better places. Not that you need queer friends in your immediate area to be queer. It’s just that I feel the hole in my life where my high school rainbow gang used to be when conversations like “What is pan?” and “You’re married; you can’t be queer!” come up with my straight cis friends and family.

Sometimes I just wanna be around people who get it. Who get me.

Anyway.

Bad Boy.

I highlighted a lot in this book. I nodded so many times while reading. I also learned much about how men process emotions, thanks to Ren. Even without the plot, Bad Boy is a good read. It explores what it means to be a feminist man, and what it means to be a man in general. It’s not about which “bits”—as my favorite robot Mr. Pendulum would say—you’ve got.

I also loved the line about how every touch from a woman is a communication, a question. As usual, Elliot Wake knocks it out of the park with his prose. Each sentence is a true delicacy.

The plot is fast-paced, though, so I took lots of breaks to just let things sink in. Especially because the main character Ren is a survivor of rape, and he must confront the “man” who raped him. I don’t think there are any triggering scenes, per se, but every time the subject comes up I’m going to be automatically thinking about my own experiences. Bad Boy truly highlights how completely it can shatter a person.

Bad Boy also carries a common thread through Black Iris and Cam Girl.

Vlog star Renard Grant has nothing to prove: he’s got a pretty face, chiseled body, and two million adoring video subscribers. Plus the scars on his chest and a prescription for testosterone. Because Ren is transgender: assigned female at birth, living now as male. He films his transition and shares it bravely with the world; his fans love his honesty and positivity.

But Ren has been living a double life.

Off-camera, he’s Cane, the muscle-bound enforcer for social justice vigilante group Black Iris. As Cane, he lets his dark side loose. Hurts those who prey on the disempowered. Indulges in the ugly side of masculinity. And his new partner, Tamsin Baylor, is a girl as rough and relentless as him. Together, they terrorize the trolls into silence.

But when a routine Black Iris job goes south, Ren is put in the crosshairs. Someone is out to ruin his life. He’s a bad boy, they say, guilty of what he punishes others for.

Just like every other guy: at heart, he’s a monster, too.

Now Ren’s got everything to prove. He has to clear his name, and show the world he’s a good man. But that requires facing demons he’s locked away for years. And it might mean discovering he’s not such a good guy after all.

This is one of those books that will stay with me, that I’ll keep thinking about long after I’ve finished.

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#FridayReads: If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo

I know, I know. I’m late to the party. (What else is new?) I’ve been dying to read this book. I recently got caught up on all the bills and adulting, and the first thing I did after breathing was buy a bunch of books. Last night I finished If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo.

What a book.

I have some critiques, but they pale next to how this book made me feel. I thought I had somewhat of an idea of what it’s like to be a trans person—I have several friends, each with different experiences—but being in Amanda’s head was another thing entirely. (And I’ll still never truly know.) This book had me sobbing a couple times, absolutely aching to reach in and pull Amanda out and into my arms. I heavily related to being bullied, physically assaulted, and sexually assaulted, and I’m also a suicide attempt survivor, so this book hit all of my heartstrings. If Russo was trying to tear my heart out, she did—in the best way possible. The way that she weaves hope into the story is what was most moving for me.

There’s no trigger warning for this book, so I was taken by surprise by some of the content, but instead of feeling panicked, I wanted to see how Amanda handled different things. Russo handles the difficult subject matter in a careful balance between being realistic and being graphic. It’s no easy feat, and I commend her for her skilled writing.

I feel that if everyone experienced “living” in Amanda’s head, the world would be a much safer place for trans people. Maybe some people would still be awful, but those who are ignorant but good at heart would change. I truly do believe that most people are good; they just have certain views or misinformation that they have been carrying and need to unpack. If I Was Your Girl helps unpack those beliefs.

It’s also just a damned good story. I like reading YA because it’s so real. (That’s what I’d hoped for NA, but I digress.) Amanda is a girl you can easily root for. Russo made her a sympathetic character but not at all weak, considering everything she’s been through. You want her to get the guy, mend her relationship with her dad, and go to NYU. What I like most about this book is that it’s not yet another queer tragedy; Amanda rises and blossoms despite and in spite of the pain she’s endured. There is a HEA and it’s a nice warm one.

The other thing I love about this book is the author’s note at the end. Not only does it clarify some things for cis people, but it’s also extremely empowering for LGBTQIA+ people.

It’s okay to be genderqueer, or to change identities more than once in your life, or to feel you have no gender at all. […] There is no wrong way to express and embody your most authentic self! You are beautiful, and you deserve to have your body and identity and agency respected.

I may or may not have teared up while reading Russo’s note.

Coolest of all is that the model on the cover is a trans person, too. Russo mentions in her note that she had as many trans people involved with the book as possible. I love that her publisher respected that, because we authors don’t often get a lot of say when working with publishers. It’s just another shining example of progression toward a better world.

I hope Russo continues to write books, because if so, I’m a lifelong reader.

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What are you reading today? Let me know in the comments!

#FridayReads: The Gravity Between Us, by Kristen Zimmer

For the past few months, I’ve been stuck in a reading rut. Every time I tried to read for fun, I just couldn’t get into it. I forced myself to finish books or just stopped reading them altogether. And it broke my heart because, hi—I was the kid who used to get in trouble for reading inside her desk during class.

Mrs. Serra, if you’re reading this, I have no regrets, but thank you so much for trying to teach my mathematically challenged brain.

The few books I did manage to read during my rut just didn’t sweep me away like they normally do. It wasn’t because they were bad books, per se. They just weren’t what I needed.

Enter The Gravity Between Us, by Kristen Zimmer.

Since I’m writing f/f romance, I figured I should read some to see what works and what doesn’t. I mean, I know what I like—hello days of yuri slash fic—but in this gig, market research is super important. Fortunately for me, market research usually means reading.

There aren’t as many books in the lesbian or bisexual romance section as there are in the het romance section, but there does seem to be a hungry readership for it. Unfortunately, Amazon’s categories could use some organizing to better serve their readers—but I’ll talk about that in a future post.

Keeping myself within a budget narrowed down my selection, so I started scrolling through the remaining titles. I looked at lots of covers, read many blurbs, and tried a few excerpts, but nothing really grabbed me—until I came across The Gravity Between Us.

The cover, though pretty, isn’t what I expected; it could be anybody kissing, which I guess must’ve been the point. I almost passed it by, but I decided to give the blurb a shot.

Where does friendship stop and love begin?

At just 19, Kendall Bettencourt is Hollywood’s hottest young starlet, with the world at her feet—but behind the glamour and designer dresses is a girl who longs for normal.

Payton Taylor is Kendall’s best friend since childhood, and the one person who reminds her of who she really is—her refuge from the craziness of celebrity life.

With her career taking off, Kendall moves Payton to LA to help keep her sane. But Payton is hiding a secret that could make everything ten times worse. Because to her, Kendall is more than a best friend—she is the only girl that she has ever loved.

Just as they need each other more than ever, they’ll have to answer the question of where friendship stops and love begins? And find out whether the feelings they have can survive the mounting pressure of fame…

The Gravity Between Us is a daring, romantic, emotional story about friendshiplove, and finding the courage to be yourself in a crazy world.

It sounded fun and romantic with just the right touch of angst—and it is. I’m not much of a fan of the coming out trope anymore, because I feel like it’s been done to death. At least, it was in the fan fic community. But Zimmer balances each of Kendall and Payton’s troubles with humor and absolutely adorable moments. You also get to see these two just living their lives—which is really important to me in f/f fiction, because as much as readers need coming out stories, we also need stories that tackle other life problems. It was especially interesting to see how Kendall and Payton each handled their relationship being in the spotlight.

The sex scenes are emotional and evocative rather than descriptive, and while I wouldn’t have minded Zimmer turning up the heat even a little, they were beautifully done. It felt like it took forever for these two to have their first kiss—in a totally good way. I rooted so hard for them, I practically threw a party when they finally got there; the slow burn is one of my favorite tropes, and this one was so very sweet.

The Gravity Between Us is more like the NA I wish we could always have: young people figuring out adulthood while dealing with tough issues. I really enjoyed it, and I hope Zimmer writes more f/f romance soon.

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Give me your f/f recommendations! I honestly haven’t read very many. I’m pretty sure the last one I read was The Bermudez Triangle… and Maureen Johnson has since changed its title to On the Count of Three. That’s how behind I am. Please send help! Leave me a comment with your favorites.

Happy 2nd Birthday, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos!

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Two years ago today, I released my third novel, The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. In the two years since, this little book and I have had a wild journey together. It was the first romance I published, which was nerve-wracking enough, but I’d decided to push the boundaries with the social issues I tackle in my writing.

A single dad, dealing with his daughter’s irresponsible mother while trying to put himself through college.

A tattooed Latina artist, determined to do more than just get by, and have a real career.

A little girl who brings them together through a Craigslist ad.

I wanted to crush stereotypes, to show the world that young single parents and tattooed women aren’t the “losers” they’ve all branded us as. It was my friends’ decisions to raise their children alone, but they never asked for strangers’ opinions on whether or not they’re good parents. It was my decision to get tattoos, but I never asked for customers at the jewelry store I worked at to rudely interrogate me about my body.

I wanted to tackle heritage, how colonization forces immigrants to assimilate into American culture, to give up the things that makes them unique, the things they eventually lose. Like the Italian my family no longer speaks, the Spanish my niece and nephew rarely use.

I also wanted to challenge gender roles and equality rules. Who says a man can’t raise his daughter alone? Who says that a woman can’t choose to be a nanny while she builds her career?

These things had been burning inside of me for years, and they all sort of bubbled out of me while writing The Nanny with the Skull Tattoos. I knew that a “traditional” romance was never told from the guy’s point of view unless it alternated with the woman’s, but I wanted to do something different. I wanted to break the mold.

Go big or go home, right?

I’ll probably never win any awards for this book, but I’m damned proud of it. It’s a great big middle finger to society and conforming, and that’s reward enough for me.


Single dad Max isn’t looking for love—or so he thinks.

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Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

I Won’t Be Silenced

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Recently a popular book blogger announced that they won’t be supporting authors who talk about politics, their children, and other non-book topics. Artists have always shaped the world around us, since the world around us is what shapes our work. Looking back through history, artists have been on the frontline during any great social or political change—either through expression, or through persecution.

The first novel I ever published, Sade on the Wall, was a culmination of years of watching loved ones struggle with addiction and being powerless to save them. I’d recently lost a high school friend to a heroin overdose, a close relative had disappeared to crack addiction, and an ex-boyfriend hurt me physically and emotionally for years while succumbing to alcohol and multiple drug addictions. If I chose to not talk about my personal life or social issues, Sade on the Wall would not exist.

None of my books would exist.

Survivors of rape, sexual assault, and incest know better than anyone else what the price of silence is. Any trauma survivor knows. There’s only so long that you can squash down the things that hurt your soul. Eventually, it either consumes you or you have to free your voice.

You have to speak your truth.

In the past year and a half, I’ve begun speaking my truth. My voice gets louder and louder, and with every step of my journey to healing, I feel more free.

I will never be silent again.

I will continue to talk about my traumas, my autoimmune disease, my cat, and my godkids. And I will continue to talk about the horrible things that Trump and his cabinet are doing to my country and her people.

If we all remained silent, if we all kept the things that are important to us to ourselves, what would the point be in being human? Humanity is about connection; we’ve needed art to explain the world around us since the dawn of time. When we find others who share our experiences, we feel less alone. We are supported. We are able to press on and survive.

Too often we turn the other cheek to suffering. We walk past the homeless veteran begging for change, turn up the volume on our headphones while our neighbor beats his girlfriend, pretend not to hear other classmates make fun of a disabled student. The worst kind of silence is apathy. To refuse to speak out is to enable the suffering, to assist the oppressor. Few spoke against Hitler, and he systemically violated group after group of innocent citizens, altogether murdering millions and millions of people. Hardly anyone spoke against Roosevelt when he rounded up Japanese-Americans, took them from their homes, and put them in camps, violating their American civil rights in a hypocritical attempt to protect Americans.

I understand that many readers use books as an escape hatch. I know I always have. Some people don’t want to think or hear about bad things because they have enough going on in their personal lives. I completely understand needing to insulate yourself and create a safe space.

But I will not be silent for the sake of selling more books.

I’ve always written to make sense of the world around me and my personal life. I created Jett to cope with a family member struggling with alcohol abuse; I couldn’t make my loved one stop drinking, but I could write about Jett’s journey to recovery.

I can’t stop the Trump administration from persecuting Muslims and taking away my healthcare, but I can write about two teenagers fighting white nationalists in their city.

I can’t cure my autoimmune disease or control my pain, but I can write about a queer spoonie and the girl who rescues her from her pain prison.

I love my readers and I appreciate your support, but I will never change who I am for the sake of selling more books. First and foremost, I am an artist. A real person with real worries, struggles, and triumphs. Words are the only weapon I’ve ever had, and with them I speak the truth.

10 Kick-Ass Books I Read in 2016

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One thing I was determined to do in 2016 was read more. I often get caught up in the “should”s, as in I should be _____ instead of reading. (Really, you can replace “reading” with anything. I so need to stop “should”ing on myself!) My goal was to read 25 books; I read 31—or at least, that’s what Goodreads says. I didn’t track all of my reads, so I’m sure this number is a bit off.

The following 10 are my favorite reads from this year, in no particular order. Check them out, and load up your Kindle!


F*ck Love, by Tarryn Fisher

F*ck Love would, gun to head, be my favorite book of 2016. I read it during a weekend while Mike was away at an art show, and I couldn’t put it down. Helena and Kit’s story was absolutely insane, in the best way possible. Months later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. This dark and gritty romance is exactly the tone of book I hope to write someday.

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Lex Talionis, by S.A. Huchton

What’s better than a revenge story? A best friend’s revenge story! Lex Talionis also joined F*ck Love in my list of all-time favorites. This was another one that I couldn’t put down. It’s also got a romantic element that had me rooting hard, plus an ending that is super rewarding.

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Luther: The Calling, by Neil Cross

My mom kept recommending I watch Luther, the show on BBC about a detective who might be just as crazy as the killers he chases. I borrowed this from her and had to seriously reign myself in from reading it in one sitting. I then proceeded to binge half of the series; it’s going to be a while until the next season comes out, so I’ve slowed down quite a bit to savor it. Complex, mysterious, and smart, Luther is one of my all-time favorite characters. It doesn’t hurt that Idris Elba is so damn sexy.

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If I Stay and Where She Went, by Gayle Forman

These books are a back-to-back must. I can’t imagine having to wait for the sequel. I borrowed If I Stay from the library and basically cried my way through it. It was so poignant and heartwrenching. Where She Went was just beautiful, and worth running back to the library for.

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Collateral, by J.C. Hannigan

The final book in the Collide series, Collateral was quite the grand finale. I’ve loved Harlow from the moment J.C. told me about her, and it’s been such a great experience watching her grow and come into her own. A suspenseful romance, Collateral is raw and real. And don’t even get me started on how freakin’ hot Jax is. He’s seriously the perfect boyfriend—and my all-time favorite book boyfriend!

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The Year We Fell Down, by Sarina Bowen

This was the first book—that I can remember reading—with a disabled heroine that fully captures what it’s like to live in a limited body. I devoured it in one sitting because I loved Corey and I absolutely had to know whether she and Adam would be together. Though Adam is only temporarily injured, he’s the epitome of the perfect partner. I haven’t read the rest of the series yet, but I really need to get on that!

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I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai

My sister brought this over one day, urging me to read it. I’d been wanting to, so no argument there! Malala tells the story of how she defied the Taliban and fought for girls’ education alongside her supportive father. It was such an inspiring and enlightening read. I was 13 on 9/11, so I remember it well but there was still a lot that I didn’t know; it was fascinating to read about the global effects of the so-called “War on Terror.” More importantly, Malala’s bravery was so empowering and uplifting.

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Pretty Pink Ribbons, by K.L. Grayson

Going in, I didn’t know that this was a breast cancer book, but I figured it out pretty quickly, as I have several loved ones who have fought breast cancer. Though it’s in a series, Pretty Pink Ribbons is a complete standalone. It’s quite the rollercoaster, emotionally speaking, but the ending is so worth every second of heartache.

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Kaleidoscope Hearts, by Claire Contreras

This was another one that I devoured. Contreras writes so beautifully, and I fell deeply in love with Estelle and Oliver. I related to a lot of their problems, and I got really attached to their friends and family members. I picked up the complete series box set, so I’m still making my way through the rest of the books. Kaleidoscope Hearts was just lovely.

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Let’s Get Digital, by David Gaughran

And now for something completely different! If you’re new to self-publishing or have been at it for a while and looking for a refreshing book with some publishing and marketing tips, Let’s Get Digital is an insightful, quick read. I promptly grabbed Let’s Get Visible to widen my education, and have already learned a lot.

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There were some books that I started but didn’t finish because I just didn’t get into them, and there were others that were re-reads of old favorites. Honestly, I’ve been watching a lot of TV; by the end of the day, I’ve got too much brain fog to focus on reading. Still, I’m really happy with my reads for 2016.

What were your favorite books this year? Let me know in the comments below!