Autism Goes To School…

Today, we begin with my very first #bookreview on this site. And what better place to start than a book that combines two of my greatest passions: romance novels and autism/neurodivergence.

Autism Goes to School is written by ‘expert’ Dr. Sharon Mitchell, mainly based upon her career as a teacher, counselor, and psychologist.

When talking about neurodivergence, I always put that word in quotations. I don’t believe that all the degrees in this world can make you an expert on something that you have no first-hand experience of. That would be like an entitled white person telling a black one about racism. Or mansplaining menopause to me (which trust me doctors do). The only experts on autism are the #ActuallyAutistic. Even then, autism is highly variable from person to person. So, the only expert on my autism is me.

Yes, both my youngest daughter and I are autistic. She is formally diagnosed by those ‘experts.’ Which was a battle in itself, and why I use those quotations. The truth is that there remains way too many myths, even or especially among the ‘experts.’ “Autism is a boy thing.” “She can look me in the eye; she can’t be autistic.” If I sound cynical, I am. I have been on this road for over a decade, which is why I have not and do not intend to waste time or money seeking my own diagnosis.

Having said all that, if there were an ‘expert’ that I trust, it would be Sharon. We have followed one another on Twitter for years; occasionally, even engaging in respectful debates or direct messaging. But somehow or the other, the fact that she also was a romance novelist escaped me. Until a few weeks ago, when I saw an advert for Autism Goes to School on her Twitter feed. I clicked it and downloaded the book. Over the next couple of days, I devoured it, fell in love, and my respect for Dr. Mitchell grew.

Autism Goes to School is a ‘sweet’ romance, meaning the sex scenes are only alluded to. Honestly, that is not generally my style. While I started off reading Grace Livingstone Hill and Barbara Cartland at twelve, I quickly outgrew them for their racier cousins by Joanna Lindsey and Bertrice Small. But this book captured me from the beginning.

It is the story of Ben, whose ex-girlfriend suddenly dumps their autistic five-year-old son, Kyle, on him. He has never been a parent. He knows nothing about autism, other than the brief and often inaccurate information on some ‘expert’ website. Now, he has to find his son a school. That is where their luck begins to change.

Madson Elementary is the school that every autistic child and family deserve. It is a place where acceptance and understanding simply happen. And Melanie Nicols is that teacher which Kyle and Ben can rely upon. She goes above and beyond the call of duty to help this father understand and accept his son. Along the way, they find love and happiness.

Now, let’s break down the elements of this story, which are strengths, weaknesses, and why:

1) Characters – Both Melanie and Ben as the main characters are well-developed and realistic. Their actions and reactions are in keeping with their backstories. The secondary characters, especially Kyle, are interesting and colorful. But they could use more development.

2) Pacing – This book is fast-paced, occurring over about a school year or nine-months, which means that there are huge gaps in time between scenes. Nonetheless, Sharon gives you enough information and context to follow along easily with the character and plot development.

3) Point of View – This story is told from multiple and alternating third person points of view, primarily Ben’s and Melanie’s. This is probably the best method to match the story. Unlike some books using this style, it is not difficult to recognize whose point view and when they switch.

4) Theme – This is what sets this book apart for me and makes it five-star worthy. Autism Goes to School is THE book that I would recommend first to any parent or loved one whose child may be or is autistic. Sharon compassionately and realistically portrays both the challenges and the positives of living an abundant, colorful life on the spectrum. With words such as:

“Autism is not a dirty word. It’s a different way of viewing the world. There are challenges involved in autism, for sure. But, there are also strengths.”

This book offers hope and encouragement as well as practical ideas for meeting those challenges. It does that without being some heavy how-to manual, but rather a light and thoroughly enjoyable read.

Of course, no book is perfect. Besides wanting more development of supporting characters like Ben and Melanie’s families and Madson’s principal, the other flaw with this book was editing. There were several minor and significant typos, grammar, and awkward sentences, such as:

He swung his hip over the top and tried perching on the too tall stool, without either foot hitting the ground, the hopped off.

But not even those, could dampen my enthusiasm for a romance novel that presented autism in such a compassionate and accepting light. I highly recommend Autism Goes to School as both a resource on neurodivergence and a light, sweet romance read. If you or anyone you know is facing the challenges of life on our beautiful rainbow spectrum of neurodiversity, this is THE book to begin your journey with.

Next week, we’ll explore another of life’s challenges with a Marine suffering from PTSD when I review another five-star book, Saving Jason, by Kate Anslinger. I know absolutely nothing about that. Ha-ha-ha.

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What to do with this site?

Since this blog is a blank slate, tabula rasa, I have been toying with how best to utilize it. What can I bring to the table that will interest readers and serve the #WritingCommunity?

It did not take me long to answer that one…

#BookReviews.

For small press and self-published authors getting reviews is almost better than getting paid. Amazon and other outlets heavily weight the rankings based upon reviews. Not just the number of stars but the number of reviews garnered. I know for me this has been and remains a problem. So, I want to help others out.

Having said that, my reluctance was two-fold…

  1. As a fellow writer, it can be hard to give books lower reviews, even 3*’s. You know how much of themselves the authors have invested in those books, how much they are counting on good reviews, and even how fragile our egos can be sometimes.
  2. The one thing I don’t want to do is get into the trading business: you review me and I’ll review you. I know loads of writers do and I am not judging them but that is just not for me.

So, I won’t be accepting manuscripts or ARC’s. These are all books I have either bought or that are on Kindle Unlimited. What is more, I am only reviewing the ones that I believe are 4 or 5 stars worthy.

What can readers and authors expect from my reviews?

A tiny bit of background and/or summary of the book, of course. But as a writer, I tend to focus on other elements of a strong story, such as:

  1. Character development – I love strong and unusual people, in my life and in my books. I know that a book is truly good when a character becomes alive to the reader.
  2. Pacing – Some stories move fast, others move slowly. Both have their place. The question is…is the pace appropriate for the story? Does it move slowly enough to allow for that character development without dragging?
  3. Point of view – Whether it is 1st person, 3rd, deep, or free indirect discourse, whether it is from one person’s POV or several characters, does it fit?
  4. Theme – This is a big one for me. Yes, reading (and in my case writing) is an escape. It can be pleasurable and fun. But the books that I love the most are the ones that teach us something…about the world, about people, and most importantly about ourselves. That, for me, is what sets a good book apart from a great one.

Those are the things that I will be focusing upon on this blog. These will be the books that stand out of the crowd for me. The ones that deserve more attention than the simple reviews I give on Amazon, Goodreads, and BookBub. The one thing you can count upon…I won’t be judging books by their covers. (But more on that theme later this week from my dark-side Raquel Graffen.)

What kind of books, you ask?

Any and all. While I will primarily focus upon fiction ones, there may be the occasional non-fiction thrown in for variety. Of course, I have a passion for romance. So, there will be lots of those. But I promise myself and you that I will attempt to read other genres too: classics, sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery.

Next week, I’ll kick off with a book whose theme is critical to me: Dr. Sharon Mitchell’s Autism Goes to School.

Until then, folks, goddess bless and Happy Reading…

Why I Support Kindle Unlimited…

I am dyslexic. I was ten years old before I learned to read. It took that long for my brain to click with letters and words. In fact, I never got the sounds thing. I did not learn to read phonetically. I learned sight words. That can be a problem to this day when I come across new words that I have no idea how to pronounce.

I am also autistic. School was torture for me. I had only a couple of friends. I never got the complexities of unwritten, often contradictory, and most definitely unfair rules that govern much of human relations. To my brain, be honest. Be yourself. And people should appreciate that and like you. Except it never works that way. Even now. Well, the right people do and will. But school was definitely not like that.

So, from the moment I learned to read, the library was heaven to me. I looked forward to my weekly visit. I can clearly remember squatting down in the aisle as I thumbed through Curious George books that I had read several times already. Trying to pick which one I would add to my growing stack of treasures.

Books were my escape. They were my best friends. Through them, I could go anywhere. Do anything. Be anyone.

And the library was the center of that. Of my universe. I always checked out the maximum number of books allowed. I read them and re-read them until I could once again escape to my heaven on earth.

When I say library, I mean our school one. The one for my city was across town. Nanny did not drive. So, I can count on one hand the number of times we made it there. And those books were usually returned late, something I hate doing.

I graduated from Curious George, Nurse Nancy, and Dr. Suess (actually, I still have not graduated from him) to Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and biographies of women like Clara Barton, Betsy Ross, and Dolly Madison. Then I moved on to Epidemiology: Medical Detectives and Grace Livingstone Hill. Eventually finding my place with Skye O’Malley and other strong heroines of those cheesy romance novels of the 70s and 80s, the ones with Fabio on every cover.

The thing was, growing up poor in the South, books were a luxury we could not afford. Only through the library could access my passion.

It has been years since I had a library card. Even then, it was so I could borrow books primarily for my daughter.

Today, I have another option…

Kindle Unlimited.

I have read hundreds of books on Unlimited. As someone who can read a book in a day or two (usually) depending on circumstances and who hates trying new things, Unlimited gives me the freedom to simply try books out. Just as the library once did. I can read a few chapters and give up. Guilt-free.

Fair enough, I love Kindle Unlimited as a reader. But how do I feel about it as a writer? Do I think it is fair?

In some ways, it is more fair than that library. Once a library bought a book, it could be read hundreds or even thousands of times without ever paying the author additional royalties. With Kindle Unlimited, I am at least paid something for every page that someone reads.

Ad 3.jpgIs that fair market value? Maybe not, but as the saying goes better something than nothing. Of course, for me, getting my books read, my message out there, is more important than the money at this point in my life and career. So, Kindle Unlimited is ideal from that point of view. That is why all my books are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited for at least the first year.

So, if you are tempted to give a Tara Neale (or Raquel Graffen) book a peak and have Kindle Unlimited, then please do. Guilt-free. This is one writer who wholeheartedly supports the idea of borrowing books.

What is an Unlimited book you would recommend to me?

 

Does sex matter?

Yesterday I finished a truly great book. (Not giving you the title or author yet as I will review it later.) The characters were alive. The author used words, fifty-cent ones, that actually forced me to use the dictionary junction on my Kindle. That impressed me. She caught the very essence of the South in which I grew up: the good and the bad. Best of all…I adored the fact that her hero was no flawed bad-boy. He was a real man…and a Marine. (We all know how I feel about those.) With the exception of a few awkward sentences, the book should have been a solid five stars.

EXCEPT…there was no sex. 

Fair enough…Tara Neale is after all the ‘sweet’ version of my writing. So, I should not be complaining about a ‘sweet’ romance. Many readers prefer those. To some of those, even my ‘sweet’ will be scandalous.

In fact, the first romances I ever read were by Christian writer Grace Livingstone Hill. The hottest those ever got was usually a kiss on the forehead…AFTER the hero proposed and the heroine accepted. Maybe that is where I get my passion for forehead kisses?

Even though I soon graduated to Harlequins, Joanna Lindsey, and Bertrice Small, I can and still do appreciate those storylines. This book will most definitely pull four stars and it might yet get that five.

What surprised me the most was what I found in the author bio. I had thought as I read it that perhaps, she avoided the sex scenes for religious reasons. But the thing was, she kept raising the sexual tensions with long kisses, feeling one another up, even erections, and wet panties. All to fade to black on a couple of times they do make love.  Then I read this…

The muscle I most admire in a man is between his ears, so I don’t write titillating sex scenes because you already know where the body parts go and you don’t need an anatomy lesson from me. As I recall bedroom events, it was fifteen minutes and he turned over and went to sleep. I got up, changed diapers or washed dishes or ironed my clothes for work the next day.

 NO! Not!

For me, sex is one of the most powerful human acts on this earth.

It can wound you so deeply that you just want to die, perhaps even kill something inside of you…

But it can also heal…even Fisher King wounds…

It is communion …with one another…with god, or the goddess, or just life itself…

Yes, it can be procreative, but it can also be creative, comforting, transformative even.

It is anything BUT body parts in slots, fifteen minutes, or an anatomy lesson.

And while I forever fail in my Grail Quest to communicate the true beauty, depth of meaning, and purpose of that act, I will continue to try nonetheless. Just as a photograph or painting can never truly capture a sunset, no matter how proficient the artist, words can never imprison the power of two bodies and souls uniting in love (or if you are Raquel Graffen more)…if only for fifteen minutes (average is less, but dang girls…who you been with?).

This book and those comments have me deeply re-thinking, clarifying, and re-defining the decision to use different pen names. No, I am not going back on that decision. Just clarifying it as I said…to you and perhaps more importantly to me.

I still stand by my Three Truths

  1. Life sux

  2. Love is the only thing that makes it worth living

  3. Great sex is the best way to show that.

The key differences…the defining characteristics…then between Tara Neale and Raquel Graffen is the form that sex takes. While I will always believe as I wrote in Nothing Done in Love

NDIL Quote

It truly is not. Be that homosexual, bi-sexual, transgender, polyamory, or BDSM…or some kinky combination of the above. If it is truly done in love, then it will hold that same power. But that is for Raquel Graffen to feebly attempt to convey.

For Tara Neale, it is the wonder of moments stolen in life’s chaos…in the arms of just one truly special man. One hero. One slightly flawed heroine who needs his strength, support, and love while offering him her compassion, acceptance, and love in return…with open arms, legs, and sometimes mouth.

In other words…’normal’ sex. Though there is never anything plain normal about it…

What are your thoughts? Does sex or the lack thereof matter to you? In books, here.

What is in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)

This has been an incredibly long road, hard-fought battle, and gut-wrenching decision. After over five years, I have decided to split my works under different pen names. I’ll admit it does not feel authentic or right in any way. I hate doing it.

For one thing, if there is anything that I believe in this world, it is that no one should ever have to ‘hide’ her true self. Whether it is neurodivergence, gender, sexuality, race, or anything else, as long as your freedoms/rights do not harm anyone else, then it should not matter. No one should have to defend their choices. And no one should ever judge a book by its cover.

Nonetheless, we live in a *f*ed up world. Especially when it comes to the complexities of publishing, even self-publishing.

So, as I began to write and publish non-fiction, I realized that if any of my racier things, such as Nothing Done In Love or Ægir’s should end up behind Amazon’s ‘erotica’ wall, everything I wrote would. Yes, I know that makes no sense. But since when did anything?

Reluctantly, I am segmenting myself. Yes, it feels as if I am cutting myself into bite-sized pieces just to please others, but?

Here is a quick lay of the new land…

Tara Neale will be primarily fiction writing, but perhaps a bit of non-fiction as well. This brand will be PG or PG-13. It will include my ‘clean’ romances with modest sex scenes such as the Sergeant Mike series as well as Angel’s Wish for the holidays.

HomeCrazzyHome will be mostly non-fiction writing about environmental issues, neurodivergence, feminism, Transcendentalism, and whatever else catches my fancy. It will also have a YouTube channel which features videos on the 3R’s (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) as well as crafting videos for upcycling, especially plastics. It will also feature homey stuff about things happening in our #HomeCrazzyHome.

Raquel Graffen will be the new pen name under which I write all the hot sex stuff. My Ægir’s fans might recognize that name. It was the pen name under which Rachel wrote her trashy romances that Kirsty loved so much. When it became apparent that I had no choice any longer, it seemed only natural to assume the identity of a character I had already created. Especially when I noticed that many of you were googling her anyway. I have already published Nothing Done In Love as a stand-alone novel under that name. I will shortly be re-releasing The Arrangement under the new title Solid Ground as well. Followed soon after by book 2 in the Apocalypse series, Rings of Fire.

One thing will not change, no matter which pen name I am writing under. That is the quality and central message of my body of work. In case you have forgotten what that is…

  1. Life sucks…
  2. Love is the only thing that makes it worth living…
  3. …and great sex is the best to show that.

Of course, that last one won’t play as central a role at Tara Neale or HomeCrazzyHome. But I won’t sell it down the river either. Neither will I hide my alter ego of Raquel Graffen.

For some of you, this makes life easier. You need rarely, if ever, fear content which might make you uncomfortable at #HomeCrazzyHome or Tara Neale. Likewise, if you want the sexy stuff, then Raquel is your gal. Of course, if you want my brand of honest, deep, and slightly sentimental writing, well, things are a bit more complicated.

Here are links to those other blogs:

HomeCrazzyHome

Raquel Graffen

Happy reading, folks!