Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Life With Pit Bulls

Hey Everyone!

Along with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, October is also Pit Bull Awareness Month, and given dog rescue – and pit bull rescue in particular – is a cause very close to my heart, I wanted to share a post about my girls to bring a little attention to it, even if only in this very small way.

As with any issue, I think educating oneself before formulating any kind of opinion or stance is vitally important, so I'm hoping my girls' story helps shed a little light on the controversial nature of the pit bull breed(s) (I put the "s" there because the pit bull label actually encompasses several different breeds).

Here are just a few of the things my husband and I heard when we told people what kind of dog we were planning to adopt:

"Is that safe?"

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?"

"You know, pit bulls are more likely to turn on their owners than any other breed."

"I have a friend (family member, neighbor, etc.) whose dog was attacked by a pit bull."
(We got several variations of this one, with the teller recounting every horror story they'd ever heard.)

"Aren't they supposed to be mean?"

And so on.

It was heartbreaking to get reactions like those both from friends and family as well as strangers, especially since we hadn't even brought Gracie home yet. It was an eye-opening time for us, and made us both all the more determined to be advocates for the breed(s).

Since bringing Gracie home however, we've encountered no outright hostility, mostly due to the fact that she's an exemplary breed ambassador. It's hard to accuse pit bulls of being vicious killers when a smiling, wiggling mass of dog with a face that's an absurdly lovable combination of Yoda, a gremlin, and Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon is waddling toward you. (Though we did have one woman tell us after meeting Gracie that she didn't realize pit bulls could be "tame". Um. What? We didn't adopt a lion cub.)

 Her ears. I die.

What we hear most often now is perhaps the most innocent-sounding of all the comments about pit bulls we've had directed our way, but also the most damaging for the breed(s):

"You know, it's all in how they're raised."

At first glance this seems like a nice sentiment, a compliment directed at me and my husband that suggests Gracie's sweet nature can be attributed to us. Under the surface however, what this comment actually implies is that a pit bull is nothing more than a reflection of its upbringing – a bad dog when raised by bad people and a good one when raised by good people – when I would argue the opposite is really true. Pit bulls are loving and loyal companion dogs often despite their upbringing. It's this reasoning that sees adult pit bulls at the top of the euthanasia list at the shelter, or languishing in rescues for years as they continually get passed over in favor of puppies.

We adopted Gracie at 2 years old and take absolutely NO credit for the amazing dog she is. She came to us chock-full of personality (seriously, she's ridiculous) and sweetness (except when she's being a stubborn a-hole), and we've done nothing but fall madly in love with her.

I'm not so blindly passionate about my girls though that I can't understand why people might be afraid of them. Gracie in particular is built like a brick shithouse, with a head and chest that comprise at least 70% of her body weight, and it's one of the first things people comment on when they meet her. We hear "that's a thick dog" or "she's got a chest on her" all the time, forcing me to tell Gracie to flaunt what God gave her so she doesn't take it personally ;-)

Physically, both Gracie and Mya are intimidating, so when people see them and ask us what kind of dogs they are, I can't really hold it against them when they take a step back or yank their hand away when they hear "pit bull". I get it. I do. But what I want people to understand most is pit bulls are not an inherently dangerous breed. They're not what any of the myths surrounding them say they are. They don't have a special kill/fight gene bred into them. They don't have magical jaws that lock and never let go. They're just dogs. Strong, muscular dogs capable of inflicting damage who are used in cruel ways for just that reason, yes, but they are not the first breed of dog, nor will they be the last, to be used as such.

Mya is a perfect example what I hope people will start to see when they look at a pit bull. Many of you already know a little of Mya's story from what I've shared with you previously, but knowing more of the details I hope will go a long way toward revealing the true nature of the breed(s).

Mya was purchased by a dog fighter as a puppy, and while we can only imagine the horrors she endured the first year of her life under his "care", we do know the specifics of her last day with him and what led to her rescue. When she proved to be an inadequate fighting dog, Mya was used for breeding. She ended up miscarrying her litter of puppies, and for her misfortune was kicked repeatedly in the belly hard enough that her uterus eventually came out and she was left in the yard to bleed to death. A neighbor saw the beating take place and thankfully stepped in, paying the owner a fee for him to hand Mya over and then rushing her to the vet. After her surgery she found her way into a rescue and loving foster home, and that's where we found her a little over a year later.

As a result of everything she went through, Mya is understandably wary of new people. This wariness presents as growling and sometimes escalates to alarm barking when it looks to her as though someone she doesn't know is going to come into her space. Her primary triggers are extended eye contact, objects in people's hands (even treats), and hands reaching toward her face, all of which result in her hunching down to make herself a smaller target and growling.

I'm not sharing Mya's story to shock or horrify (though it is both shocking and horrifying), but to educate. While Mya does have some trouble in larger social situations, she's also a beautiful example of how resilient a pit bull can be. Despite the nightmare that was the first year of her life, she came out the other side happy and wiggly, and wants nothing more than to be near her people. While "trained" to fight, she absolutely adores other dogs, and shows not even the slightest hint of aggression no matter how other dogs behave toward her.

Because those who meet her don't know her history, however, the growling to them says "aggressive" rather than "fearful", and as a result, Mya has the very real ability to confirm the pit bull stereotype for some people. (We are currently working with a behaviorist to help us be what Mya needs us to be to thrive, and she has made a staggering amount of progress in the 5 months we've had her. We have ways to go yet, but we'll get there:))

I wish every single person who hears her growl could know her story. Know that her wariness has absolutely nothing to do with her breed, and everything to do with being abused. People hurt her. People failed her. Yet she is the one who bears the burden of that failure because she sometimes plays into the stigma of a pit bull. Mya's story circles back to the "it's all in how they're raised" comment. She was raised to be vicious. Raised to fight, to attack, to use that mythical jaw to inflict as much damage as possible for sport. But despite all that, my husband and I have a dog who loves to snuggle and give kisses. Who is unbearably gentle in disposition and wants so badly to please us that her body never stops wiggling in our presence. Both she and Gracie are more than their separate upbringings, and my hope for the future is to see an end to breed specific legislation and the idea that the breed(s) as a whole is violent.

I know there are many who would read this post and rant and rave at me about things they've seen, heard or experienced regarding pit bulls, citing dog bite statistics and sensationalized articles about attacks, and I honestly can't refute their claims having not witnessed them personally. The only thing I can say is what I know of pit bulls being involved in rescue and having two of my own, and that is despite the circumstances of how they were raised – Gracie, a neglected stray with 15 minutes to spare before she was put down at the shelter, and Mya, a survivor of nightmare-inducing abuse – they are sweet-natured and loving to the core.

For those of you who might be interested in learning more about pit bulls, there's an outstanding documentary currently on Netflix called The Champions. It's the story of the dogs rescued from NFL star Michael Vick's dog fighting operation, a landmark case marking the first time dogs involved in a fighting ring weren't automatically euthanized. They were given the opportunity to be rehabilitated instead, and it follows 5 or 6 of them that were eventually adopted out into loving homes. It's a very honest documentary and one that's pro-pit bull for sure, but it also doesn't show this case as all rainbows and unicorns where every dog has a happy ending either. There are a number of dogs that were simply too brutalized to be able to fully recover emotionally and mentally, and those dogs will live the rest of their lives in the safety of a sanctuary. It's light on details in terms of the actual abuse while a part of Vick's operation, so all you fellow animal lovers don't have to worry on that front!

This was a very long, very personal post as my dogs are my kids, and I hope it might inspire you to do some research into the breed(s) or into dog rescue in general!

Before I go, a few more pictures of my girls in all their pit bull glory:)

 "Helping" Dad lay sod in the backyard.

Gracie doesn't like to snuggle with us all that much, 
but with Mya she has no concept of personal space.



Friday, October 21, 2016

Giveaway: Black Widow: Red Vengeance

Happy Friday Everyone!

As a little celebration for another week being over (who's ready for a vacation?), I have a fun giveaway to share with you all! Last year Margaret Stohl dipped into the Marvel Universe with Black Widow: Forever Red and has recently released the second book in this series, Black Widow: Red Vengeance. I happen to be a huge fan of all things Marvel, so while I haven't had the chance to read these yet, I'm thoroughly looking forward diving in to both of them!

Before we get to the giveaway, here's a little bit about book two:
Emotions are dangerous, which is why the graduates of Moscow’s famed spy school the Red Room are taught to keep their enemies close and their loved ones at a distance. Black Widow and Red Widow, also known as Natasha Romanoff and Ava Orlova, forgot that lesson once, and they won’t forget it again.

But the Widows have inherited something else from their shared Moscow past: a relentless need for vengeance—Ivan Somodorov is dead, but his network of terror remains.

While the Widows search South America in order to extinguish a smuggling operation with ties to their old nemesis, their own Red Room not only attempts to assassinate them both but also hacks their secure S.H.I.E.L.D. network. As a result, Ava and Natasha find themselves thrust into a trying mission of international intrigue that takes them throughout the world and back to New York City, where their friends Dante and Sana become unlikely targets as well.

Once again, nothing is as it seems, no one can be trusted, and no one is safe—not unless the Widows can stop a conspiracy involving stolen nuclear warheads, mind-altering chemical weapons, and ultimately, betrayal by old friends and enemies alike.

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Margaret Stohl is the #1 New York Times best-selling co-author of the Beautiful Creatures novels (also a major motion picture) and the author of the instant New York Times best seller Black Widow: Forever Red, as well as a contributor to multiple Marvel comics. Previously, Margaret was a veteran of the video game industry, working as a writer and designer before co-founding 7 Studios with Lewis Peterson.

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One lucky winner will receive copies of Black Widow: Forever Red and Black Widow: Red Vengeance, plus a branded tote bag and pin! A huge thanks to Marvel Press for providing the prize pack. To enter, please fill out the Rafflecopter form below. Giveaway is open to US addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Interview: Jessica Shirvington & Disruption

Today I'm thrilled to welcome author Jessica Shirvington back to the blog to answer a few questions about the first book in her newest duology, Disruption. I fell madly in love with Jessica's storytelling with her Violet Eden Series, and that love continued with One Past Midnight, so I can't wait to get sucked into Disruption:) If you've yet to read any of Jessica's books, they have my highest recommendation and I hope you leave here immediately and add them to your shelves!
Dystopian and Science Fiction novels often depict a rather terrifying future, altogether too believable even in their fiction. What Dystopian, Sci-Fi or Post-Apocalyptic world from any piece of fiction is the most nightmare-inducing for you?

Yes, they are all fairly terrifying. Oddly enough, I don’t mind the ones that take us back to the basics – where we have to rebuild and start again. There is a part of me that sometimes thinks that is the way things will probably go. The dystopian worlds which really frighten me are the ones run by technology. It worries me to think that we hand over so much trust to technology that is basically without morals, foresight, need, emotion or hope. That is really scary.

If Maggie could escape from her world and jump into any other YA novel, which would top her list?

Good question. I’m not sure there is any other dystopian story she would particularly like. However, there are a few worlds that I think she would survive well in. If I had to pick, maybe Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi. It would certainly be interesting to see her in that world.

If Maggie could send a warning back to us about what the evolution of the smartphone and the effect it’s had on her world, what would she most like to say?

No matter how smart the technology is, you can’t map out and decide what and who people are going to become based on statistics and history. Every person is unique and deserves their chance to try and fail-or-succeed. Technology gives us too much of the wrong kind of information. 

Aside from the smartphone, what’s one other piece of modern technology you can easily see evolving in a disturbing kind of way?

Food and the way we eat it. If we don’t start looking after the environment we won’t be able to have the same kind of fresh produce and animal life that we are used to. Our food will become a technology based resource – it will be heavily processed and bolstered by more and more supplements on the side. Already an apple tastes different to when I was a kid. I worry that if we don’t take steps to look after the climate issue, my children’s children will have a very different understanding of food.

How would the Maggie at the beginning of Disruption describe Quentin Mercer, heir to the M-Corp empire? The Maggie at the end?

In the beginning, Maggie would describe Quentin as entitled and predictable. She would also describe him as nothing more than a stepping stone. In the end…well, I think she would describe him as someone she values greatly, and as the person who is her greatest weakness (amongst other things ;)
Thanks so much for stopping by Jessica!

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The heart-stopping first chapter in bestselling author Jessica Shirvington's Disruption series.

What if a microchip could identify your perfect match?

What if it could be used against you and the ones you love?

Eight years ago, Mercer Corporation's M-Bands became mandatory. An evolution of the smartphone, the bracelets promised an easier life. Instead, they have come to control it.

Two years ago, Maggie Stevens watched helplessly as one of the people she loved most was taken from her, shattering her world as she knew it. Now, Maggie is ready. And Quentin Mercer - heir to the M-Corp empire - has become key to Maggie's plan.

But as the pieces of her dangerous design fall into place, could Quentin's involvement destroy everything she's fought for?

In a world full of broken promises, the ones Maggie must keep could be the most heartbreaking.

Find Jessica:

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday: Dark Breaks The Dawn

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted by Breaking The Spine and is a fun way to see what books other bloggers just can't wait to get their hands on!

Sara B. Larson
Young Adult/Fantasy
Releases May 2017 from Scholastic

From Goodreads:

On her eighteenth birthday, Princess Evelayn of Eadrolan, the Light Kingdom, can finally access the full range of her magical powers. The light looks brighter, the air is sharper, and the energy she can draw when fighting feels almost limitless.

But while her mother, the queen, remains busy at the war front, in the Dark Kingdom of Dorjhalon, the corrupt king is plotting. King Bain wants control of both kingdoms, and his plan will fling Evelayn onto the throne much sooner than she expected.

In order to defeat Bain and his sons, Evelayn will quickly have to come into her ability to shapeshift, and rely on the alluring Lord Tanvir. But not everyone is what they seem, and the balance between the Light and Dark comes at a steep price.

I really enjoyed Sara's Defy series, so this one can't release soon enough for me. The heroine of the Defy series was as strong as they come, and it sounds like Evelayn with her magic and her ability to shapeshift is going to be badass in her own right, something that always makes me happy. I'm wondering if she's a swan shifter based on that crown, and if she is, that's not a shifter I've read about before so consider me intrigued. It's possible the swan is more symbolic than literal though, and while now I can't stop hoping for a swan shifter, I'm still counting the days until this book makes its way into my grabby hands!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Cathy Reviews: Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy

My mother in law Cathy is back today to share her latest review from the Shadowhunter world!

Young Adult/Paranormal/Fantasy
672 pages
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Available November 15th
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
The New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling collection of short stories chronicling the adventures of Simon Lewis as he trains to become a Shadowhunter is now available in print for the first time with ten brand-new comic illustrations!

Simon Lewis has been a human and a vampire, and now he is becoming a Shadowhunter. The events of City of Heavenly Fire left him stripped of his memories, and Simon isn’t sure who he is anymore. So when the Shadowhunter Academy reopens, Simon throws himself into this new world of demon-hunting, determined to find himself again. Whomever this new Simon might be.

But the Academy is a Shadowhunter institution, which means it has some problems. Like the fact that non-Shadowhunter students have to live in the basement. At least Simon’s trained in weaponry—even if it’s only from hours of playing D&D.

Join Simon on his journey to become a Shadowhunter, and learn about the Academy’s illustrious history along the way, through guest lecturers such as Jace Herondale, Tessa Gray, and Magnus Bane. Written by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan, Maureen Johnson, and Robin Wasserman, these moving and hilarious short stories are perfect for the fan who just can’t get enough of the Shadowhunters.

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy is a collaborative effort by Cassandra Clare and several other authors. At first glance, it looks like a book of not-so-short stories. This is a big book, 600 plus pages, but I was nicely surprised that the stories were not disjointed but instead told a continuous story of Simon Lewis's time at the Academy learning to be a Shadowhunter. Simon's story is the thread that holds all the stories together.

For the Mortal Instrument series fan, you will thoroughly enjoy this book. Each story gives us a look at characters from all the different series. It gives some historical background on how some of our favorite characters evolved in this world. And you get visits from some of the most beloved characters, such as Jace, Clary, Jem, and Magnus.

For those who have not read any of the series, never fear, this might be a good introduction. We get to follow Simon's growth as part of this Shadowhunter world and all his insecurities. Ms. Clare gives us enough background information so that we are not floundering. When we meet these old friends, they might stir up enough interest in the Mortal Instrument series that they will all be added to your stack of books to read.

Don't be daunted by the size of this book because it is broken up into many smaller stories and moves quickly. We not only feel Simon's angst and pain while he is learning his trade, we are introduced to several new friends that we become very attached to and want to learn their fate as well. The book is very well rounded even though it is a divided into many parts. Unlike many short story books, these stories need to be read in order to keep a continuous flow in the plotline.

Find Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy:

This book was sent to me by the publisher  free of charge for the purpose of a review
I received no other compensation and the above is my, or in this case Cathy's, honest opinion.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Countdown to Heartless: Review

Marissa Meyer
Young Adult/Retelling
464 pages
Feiwel & Friends
Available November 8th
Source: ARC from publisher for review

THE STORY (from Goodreads)
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland — the infamous Queen of Hearts — she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the yet-unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend and supply the Kingdom of Hearts with delectable pastries and confections. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next Queen.

At a royal ball where Cath is expected to receive the king's marriage proposal, she meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the King and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship.

Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

Heartless returns us once again to the depths of Ms. Meyer's imagination, granting us access to a world of whimsy and darkness where we're able to view well-known characters through a looking glass all her own.

Catherine wants nothing more than to be covered in sugar and flour all day every day, creating recipes and baking to her heart's content alongside her lady's maid and closest friend, Mary Ann. Given she's the daughter of a marquess however, the path her life takes simply cannot be one of her own choosing, especially when the King of Hearts sets his sights on her. It's so very easy to sympathize with Catherine in the beginning–her dream one that's so simple yet so impossible at the same time– and once we're subjected to the giggly effervescence of the king, we can do nothing but wince along with her every time he opens his mouth and his tittering laugh escapes.

Cath's romance with Jest is full of tension both romantic and forbidden, and though we want to encourage her to follow her heart in this case, a knot of dread deep in our chests pulls tighter every time they're together, wondering when and how it's all going to come crashing down around them given who Cath is destined to become. Though Cath's descent into darkness is at times painful and we find ourselves futiley hoping for an ending we know can never come to pass, it's also a journey that holds us spellbound as Ms. Meyer leads us on a merry dance of wonder and madness. And when the moment comes that we reach the final page and are left with an infamous line ringing in our ears, we simply can't help the Cheshire-like grin that splits our cheeks.

Overall, Heartless is as enormously imaginative as all Ms. Meyer's previous books, and I cannot wait to see what retelling she takes on next.

Rating: 4.5/5

There are only 25 days left until Heartless! Pre-Order your copy:

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One of my first spoken words was “story” (right along with “bath” and “cookie”), my favorite toy as an infant was a soft, squishable book, and I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first realized such a job existed.

When I was fourteen my best friend introduced me to anime and fanfiction—over the years I would complete over forty Sailor Moon fanfics under the penname Alicia Blade. Those so inclined can still find my first stories at fanfiction.net. Writing fanfic turned out to be awesome fun and brought me in contact with an amazing group of fanfiction readers and writers. As Alicia Blade, I also had a novelette, “The Phantom of Linkshire Manor,” published in the gothic romance anthology Bound in Skin (CatsCurious Press, 2007).

When I was sixteen I worked at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Tacoma, Washington, affectionately termed “The Spag.” (Random factoid: This is also the restaurant where my parents met some 25 years before.) I attended Pacific Lutheran University where I sorted mail that came to the dorm, carted tables and chairs around campus, and took writing classes, eventually earning a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Children’s Literature. Knowing I wanted a career in books, I would also go on to receive a Master’s degree in Publishing from Pace University (which you can learn more about here). After graduation, I worked as an editor in Seattle for a while before becoming a freelance typesetter and proofreader.

Then, day of days, someone thought it would be a good idea to give me a book deal, so I became a full-time writer. CINDER is my first novel, though I have an adorable collection of unfinished ones lying around too.

I now live with my husband and our three cats (Calexandria Josephine, Stormus Enormous, and Blackland Rockwell III), who go in and out, in and out, about eight hundred times a day. My favorite non-bookish things include Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, re-watching episodes of Firefly, and playing all manners of dress-up.