Posted in Book Related Blog Posts

Best Books Of 2019

Hello everyone! This is Author Anthony Avina, and today I am here to share with you all the top reads of 2019 on my website. I’ve reviewed over 160 books this year, and as we close out not only 2019 but the decade, I thought it appropriate as we head into 2020 to look back on 2019 and see what were the top books of the year. So without further adieu, here are my top picks of 2019! 


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Best YA Romance: Again, but Better by Christine Riccio 

A beautiful story from emerging author Christine Riccio about the choices we make in life, and what we would do if we could go back and change things. A story of following your dreams, living the life you want and finding love, and how hard a person is willing to fight to hold onto that dream and that love. 


Best YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy: Nexus (The Androma Sage #2) by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

This exciting concluding chapter to the Androma Saga duology was a whirlwind sci-fi adventure in the YA genre. Authors Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg did a wonderful job closing this story out, creating a universe under the forced rule of a pair of siblings that seek control, but as a young outlaw turned hero seeks to save her makeshift family and stop this threat, the siblings find they are more pawns than true rulers in this quest, and an even greater threat is set to emerge on the galaxy. A must read sci-fi adventure! 


Best Fantasy: The Second Life of Eddie Coyne by Louis K Lowy

A brilliant fantasy driven narrative from author Louis K Lowy, which showcases the downfall of a father and husband and the journey he takes to find the true meaning of life and a life well lived. Finding what matters most in life and holding onto it as the protagonist struggles to find their way back home again, this is a fantastic read for 2019. 


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Best Mystery/Crime: A Shattered Lens: A Detective Preach Everson Novel by Layton Green

If you are looking for a great murder/mystery series to sink your teeth into, then the Detective Preach Everson series is for you. Author Layton Green’s second novel is a masterpiece of the genre, expertly crafting a murder mystery that pushes the protagonist to their limit both professionally and personally. This book serves as both the perfect continuation of the series and a great book for newcomers to enjoy as well.


Best Comic Book/Graphic Novel: Spider-Geddon by Christos Gage

While there were many great comic books in 2019, and many that I still need to read, out of all the comics I read that were published this year, my all time favorite had to be Spider-Geddon. A great sequel to the epic Spider-Verse storyline, the return of the Inheritors and the imminent threat they pose to the Spider-heroes of the Marvel Multiverse make this a thrilling read. Spider-Man is an essential hero to the larger Marvel Universe, and the comic book industry as a whole, and so exploring not only his story but the story of several other spider heroes in the multiverse is always a thrill. Add the terrifying and powerful threat of the Inheritors to the mix, and this storyline makes for a wonderful read. 


Best Contemporary Romance/Fiction: If Only by Melanie Murphy 

One of my all time favorite reads of 2019, Melanie Murphy’s debut fiction novel was a brilliant novel. The characters were engaging, the fantasy element of seeing various lives if the protagonist had made different choices was a great addition to the plot and yet it didn’t overpower the overall theme and romance of the story whatsoever. Its a story many people our age can identify with and the author’s voice and tone in the novel is entertaining, engaging and refreshing to read, making this a must read of 2019. 


Best Dystopian Thriller: A Single Light (The Line Between #2) by Tosca Lee

A great ending to another brilliant duology, author Tosca Lee has created a wonderful dystopian thriller that showcases the continued struggle for survival in the face of a massive breakout. Months after surviving the events of book one, the protagonists must fight for survival in a crumbling society, and as secrets threaten to tear them apart, they must find that which makes life worth living in the face of great danger once more. A must read novel of 2019!


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Best Science Fiction: Hybrid by Rebecca Henry

My all time favorite sci-fi read of 2019, my good friend author Rebecca Henry has created a fantastic story that delves into the best aspects of the sci-fi genre. Secret government operations, powerful aliens who have influenced society, time and space travel and so much more. It’s a sci-fi fans dream read and I highly recommend reading my full review to get a sense of this amazing novel. 


Best YA Historical Fiction: The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

If you are a fan of History’s Vikings or the legends of Norse Mythology mixed with historical settings then you will absolutely love Adrienne Young’s “The Girl The Sea Gave Back”. The novel is a sequel of sorts to “Sky in the Deep”, and expertly crafts a story of a young girl considered an outcast her entire life and burdened by knowledge of fate, and a young man striving to make a better life for his people years after the end of a decades long war. Its a great way of continuing the story of the original novel while focusing on new characters and a new period of time in this wonderful world the author has created. 


Best Mystery Crime Thriller: The Sixth Wicked Child (4MK Thriller #3) by J.D. Barker

The exciting final chapter in one of the best crime thrillers of the decade, author J.D. Barker’s “The Sixth Wicked Child” is the brilliant concluding story in the 4MK Trilogy. The shocking game of cat and mouse between the protagonist and 4MK is taken to new heights in this novel, as readers are forced to examine whether or not the series protagonist is the hero they’ve been led to believe, or will he turn out to be the villain all along? A twisted tale that pushes everyone to their limit, this was a phenomenal read and one of the top books of 2019 for me personally.


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Best Nonfiction: Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley by Carol Es

Last but certainly not least is author Carol Es’s book “Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley”. A heartbreaking and emotional journey, this non-fiction read was one of the best of 2019, and took readers through the author’s life as well as through the harrowing journey of being caught in the midst of a cult. It’s a gritty and realistic novel that will catch the reader off guard at times, but is well worth the read. Highly recommend! 

Posted in Interviews

Interview with Author Carol Es

1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?

I started writing around the age of 12. I’d been quite illiterate to begin with because I missed out on a lot of schooling. I wrote indecipherable poetry filled with angst—stream-of-consciousness diary entries about wanting to get away from my abusive situation. It wasn’t until I started reading my favorite writers before I’d make any attempt at any real writing. I never wrote full time because I also played the drums and painted. I was most serious about music at the very start.   

I fell in love with authors like JD Salinger, Tom Robbins, and Charles Bukowski and buried my nose in everything they wrote. Salinger’s Nine Stories made me want to be a short story writer. Then, I read Bukowski’s Ham on Rye and that truly changed my life forever. He gave me a lot of freedom to be myself as an artist. Then came John Fante, He’s now just about my favorite writer.

2) What inspired you to write your book?

I always knew I’d write this book. I just didn’t know if I’d ever publish it. Not as nonfiction anyway. I’ve always written autobiographical fiction and wrote a lot of dark comedy stories about my family. I figured I’d put them together as a collection or something, but I didn’t think I could string them into one long book. I didn’t believe in myself enough. I’d tried to write whole novels in the past and failed. Eventually, I wanted to try again. And again. And again. It took me almost a decade to finish this book, and as the years went on, Shrapnel took several different directions.

3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I really don’t have a direct intention for what my readers should or shouldn’t take away. This is the same philosophy I have with putting any of my art out on display. The work has two lives; the one it’s lived with me during its process, then the life it lives once it’s completed. It now lives with the audience and becomes their personal, individual experience. I can only hope people can identify with it on some level.

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4) What drew you into this particular genre?

Interestingly enough, I’d mostly been inspired by fictional stories that were written in a nonfiction, first-person format, such as Alice Walker’s The Color PurplePush by Sapphire, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Alison, and Bee Season by Myla Goldberg. Dorothy Allison’s book is based on her real life and I originally wanted to take this approach, but my partner, Michael Phillips (also a writer), got me to change it to nonfiction. He got me to see how much more powerful it could be. I didn’t think anyone would believe it, and frankly I was fearful of putting my story out there. Now I’m grateful for his encouragement because it’s made me a stronger person.

5) There were quite a few different sides to your story that were heartfelt, emotional and powerful enough to convey your struggle to the reader. In regards to your experience within Scientology, if you could sit down and ask any of the leaders of the group a question or confront them in any way, what would you want to say to them?

I do not think anything I could ask or say to the leader, David Miscavage, that would ultimately change anything. As far as I’m concerned, and as the public continues to hear evidence of the stories regarding his abuse and destruction, he is a megalomaniac with blinders on. He has no conscious when making his ends meet, whatever they may be. Challenging his motives would only make things worse for his enemies and Scientologists alike.

Having once been a devout Scientologist, I’d rather address Scientologists in general and ask that they try to consult their gut. I would tell them that people that speak out against religions that abuse their members are not evil. Cutting off a dialogue with them doesn’t fix the situation. Disconnecting from people labeled “suppressive” only further isolates your mind to stick with like-minded Scientology kin. How will you find understanding with the rest of the world that way? And are you really the one who controls your communication?

6) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?

Keeping a blog is key, as well as slowly adding to my mailing list. I put out a newsletter a few times a year and am careful not to “spam” my list with too many superfluous email blasts. I make sure I announce my blog posts on all my social media outlets. Facebook and ello are my most successful.

7) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?

You can always get better at writing by reading. Read a lot and a wide range of genre. Don’t give up, but don’t try too hard either. Try not to listen to other people’s opinions—that may possibly kill the best thing about your style and voice. Just be mindful of it anyway, because not everyone knows what they’re talking about. Strunk & White’s Elements of Style is almost the only thing you’ll ever need. But if you like spending $100K on college, do what you like.

The most important piece of advice I have is: despite rejection at seemingly every turn, you can do this. We are all stronger than we think.

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On a separate note, if you were to be able to speak to anyone who has questioned the practices of Scientology or has been approached to possibly join the group, what would you want to say to them or what advice would you want to give them based on your own experiences? 

I feel I’ve pretty much answered this and choose not to dig a deeper hole. But I would refer current members of Scientologists to Dr. Robert J. Lifton’s Eight Criteria to reevaluate their situation.

8) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?

Right now I am finishing up new artwork for my big book launch and solo exhibit at the gallery that represents me in Los Angeles, Craig Krull Gallery. The show opens Saturday April 13th, 2019 at 4pm with a reading and a short Q&A. I will then sign books until the artist’s reception that goes from 5-8pm. The show runs until May 25.

I’m also putting the finishing touches on the special lettered edition of Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley, which is limited to 30 copies only. It is hard-bound in linen and comes with original artwork inside.

I plan to take a short hiatus over the summer and begin working on a book of short stories in the fall. I’d like to publish them with watercolor illustrations by 2020. 

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Author Bio

Carol Es

Carol Es is a self-taught artist, writer, and musician born in Los Angeles. Using a wide variety of media, she is known for creating personal narratives that transform a broken history into a positive resolution. Her paintings, drawings, installations, videos, and books have been exhibited nationwide in venues such as Riverside Art Museum, Torrance Art Museum, Lancaster Museum of Art and History, and Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles. Some of her works can be found in the collections at the Getty and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. Her collaborative film was also featured in the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale. 

Awarded many honors, including several grants from the National Arts and Disability Center and California Arts Council, she is a two-time recipient of the ARC Grant from the Durfee Foundation, a Pollock-Krasner Fellowship, and the Wynn Newhouse Award. She has written articles of art critique for the Huffington Post and Coagula Art Journal, as well as having poetry published with small presses. She also received a writing grant from Asylum-Arts—a Global Network for Jewish Culture.

Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley

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Desert Dog Books

Posted in Guest Post

Guest Article: Signposts of Inspiration by Carol Es

Editor’s Note: This is Anthony Avina, and I wanted to personally welcome author Carol Es to my website. This insightful and honest article was something I wanted to share with you all, and I couldn’t appreciate it more that Carol took the time to write it for us. I hope you guys enjoy it. Now on to Carol’s article…


When people ask what inspires me, I never know what to say. Not because I’m lacking in the inspiration department—it’s just too general a question. “Everything,” I’ll say. If asked what my inspiration might be for something specific, you probably won’t be able to shut me up.

As both a writer and a visual artist, my work is predominantly autobiographical. I love anything with a narrative. Stories move me to create, they draw me in and take me on an escape, like a drug. When combining writing with art together, all the better. I have made many Artist’s books that mish-mash art and words, a genre unto itself, and it’s mostly what I’m used to working in.

However, I’ve been writing short stories and poetry since I was a kid. I wrote a screenplay when I was 17-18 that I never finished. (It was terrible.) Throughout my 20s, I made several attempts at writing novels, but had never been able to get more than 50 pages in. Most of the fiction I wrote was autobiographical. I’ve been inspired by authors Charles Bukowski since I was a young teenager, and later John Fante. It’s not that I wanted to write in either of their styles, but I wanted to be able to evoke a similar feeling from my writing.

Still working on that.

It was nerve-wracking writing in nonfiction, though I think it drove me to finish an entire book. At first, I didn’t write about myself much at all. I found the stories of people much more interesting, and so, I’ve written Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley several times over. It was hard to come to grips with, but a memoir is supposed to be self-indulgent. It just feels uncomfortable. I had to carve out an honest story and reveal my raw self to the world. It’s risky business.

Along the way, I probably couldn’t have finished it without bits of inspiration. My partner, Michael Phillips, also a writer pushed me and supported me immensely. I was also absolutely dazzled after seeing Jonathan’s Caouette’s documentary art film, Tarnation.

Caouette took 20 years of home movies, snapshots, and answering machine messages, stuck them into a blender and came out with a unique examination of his early life—his tumultuous childhood with his mentally ill mother. How could I not identify with that? My mother was bipolar.

This incredibly brave movie deeply inspired me to stop apologizing for my own dysfunctional family and embrace them as my muse. I also began to see the strength in vulnerability instead of viewing it as a weakness.

But I had been wanting to write this book in one version or another for a long time. At the start of it, I began to think back some 20 years when I lived off of Laurel Canyon—a winding road through the Santa Monica Mountains that connects the southeast San Fernando Valley to West Hollywood in Los Angeles. It was the most inspired time and place for me.

A few people in the apartment building I lived in donated books in the laundry room and we’d all give and take them. Once I found a big hardcover book that got me really into my Jewish genealogy (Finding our Fathers by Dan Rottenberg), which sent me on a wild and freaky ride to nowhere. Or maybe it sent me to a sad wasteland. I never quite got to the bottom of my family search, but I got a lot of stories from all the digging I did. Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley actually began with my parents’ backstories, but most of it wound up on the cutting room floor as they say.

Once I’d been working on the book for a couple of years, I found even more inspiration in Myla Goldberg’s Bee Season. I’d been living in San Pedro and picked it up at the free clinic, much in the same way I did Finding our Fathers.

Though Bee Season isn’t a work of nonfiction, it changed the way I saw memoir writing. It’s written from a young girl’s point of view looking back as an adult woman. She recalls the span of time in her life when she was able to win over her father’s love by excelling in national spelling competitions. Though I’m no good at spelling, I really identified with the character who was the youngest in a Jewish family of just four. She’s also been severely overshadowed by her older brother. More than her thoughts and desires to be loved, it was the way she was able to bring in each of her family members’ backstory so seamlessly. I loved that and wished I could have done that. Perhaps in the future.

I get wildly excited and inspired by other visual artists too. I’ll fall in love with painters, i.e.: Amy Sillman, or Lisa Sanditz. I’ll want their work to influence mine. Inevitably, it is nearly impossible to duplicate the same feelings or techniques because everyone has there own thing. My work always winds up looking like all my other paintings. It’s frustrating because I often like other artist’s work much more than my own. That happens. That’s life, I guess. We aspire to be better and are inspired by the beauty that surrounds us and keep on going.

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Author Bio

Carol Es

Carol Es is a self-taught artist, writer, and musician born in Los Angeles. Using a wide variety of media, she is known for creating personal narratives that transform a broken history into a positive resolution. Her paintings, drawings, installations, videos, and books have been exhibited nationwide in venues such as Riverside Art Museum, Torrance Art Museum, Lancaster Museum of Art and History, and Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles. Some of her works can be found in the collections at the Getty and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. Her collaborative film was also featured in the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale. 

Awarded many honors, including several grants from the National Arts and Disability Center and California Arts Council, she is a two-time recipient of the ARC Grant from the Durfee Foundation, a Pollock-Krasner Fellowship, and the Wynn Newhouse Award. She has written articles of art critique for the Huffington Post and Coagula Art Journal, as well as having poetry published with small presses. She also received a writing grant from Asylum-Arts—a Global Network for Jewish Culture.

Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley

esart.com

Desert Dog Books

Posted in reviews

Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley by Carol Es Review

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own.

TRIGGER WARNING: THEMES AND STORIES INVOLVING ABUSE, SEXUAL ASSAULT, DRUG USE AND SUICIDE ARE FEATURED IN THIS NOVEL. READER DISCRETION ADVISED.

One woman’s harrowing journey through a tumultuous childhood and the back and forth struggle between living a “normal life” and being indoctrinated into Scientology comes to life in author Carol Es’s novel “Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley”. Here is the synopsis. 

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The Synopsis

Six houses, five apartments, three motels, a Hollywood mansion, and a small vegetable farm. Moving 16 times before the age of nine is enough to screw with any kid’s head. Living with an unstable family, a mentally abusive mother, and enduring years of neglect and sexual molestation left Carol Es believing she was inherently bad. At 14, she decided to ditch a rootless, dysfunctional family circus, seeking something that might make her a better person.

She thought she found her answers in Scientology, but she thought wrong.

As a self-taught artist, writer, and drummer, Carol maintained an unbreakable bond with her passions as a means of survival. She exhibited her art and played music tirelessly in bands on Sunset Boulevard and the LA circuit. She toured the US and Canada, signed with Sony Music, but all the while, she’d been conditioned to hide and deny her own mental illness in order to stay true to the doctrine of L. Ron Hubbard—a man who claimed psychiatric treatment was an evil hoax.

In her book, Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley, Carol explains how it was even possible to be both brainwashed and live “normally” in the world of contemporary art and rock n’ roll.

After a tumultuous childhood and 20 years in the cult, Carol Es takes a huge stride out of fear and silence by sharing her true vulnerabilities and intense experiences. With gallows humor and a unique perspective, she invites readers into her confidence, laying bare her most raw and intimate revelations on her seemingly endless search for self-worth as a woman. In conversational prose, she manages to embrace the horrifically sad scenes of her past, her biggest embarrassments, and finds absurdities one can only laugh about through tears.

Illustrated with crude sketches throughout, Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley is a courageous, relatable story that will keep you turning pages to the very end.

The Review

This has got to be one of the most detailed and emotionally powerful books of not only an ex-Scientologist, but of a survivor in general. Having overcome so much hardship and struggles in her life, author Carol Es has delivered an emotionally driven, informative and down to earth retelling of the events that shaped her life, and her journey to overcome those experiences. 

While I will reiterate that his novel has some powerful themes and stories that can be triggering for some (and should not be read by anyone who is triggered by these stories or children), the story is one everyone should get an opportunity to read. The life led by the author has elements many people can find a way to relate to. Whether it’s the abuses she survived, the indoctrination in Scientology, (one of the biggest cults currently running in the world), a troubled childhood and family life and coming to terms with that while dealing with loss, the highs and lows of the music industry, and even those struggling with autoimmune illnesses like MS and Lupus, this novel has something most readers will be able to relate to and identify with. 

The Verdict

This is a must read novel of 2019. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s a top contender for best nonfiction and top read of 2019 on my website. It’s has humor infused in a natural way, while also incorporating emotionally charged stories that not only showcase the worst of humanity, but also shows the power of resilience and fighting for a brighter, better tomorrow. An in-depth analysis of Scientology as well, viewers of the show conducted by former Scientologist Leah Remini or former scientologists themselves will be shocked, surprised and relieved to see someone give such an accurate and powerful account of what life in this organization is truly like. If you enjoy powerful memoirs, real life accounts of life inside of a cult and stories of overcoming great odds to find a brighter future, then grab your copy of Carol Es’s novel “Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley” on April 6th, 2019. 

Rating: 10/10

Spring Promotion – $5 off $45 @ eBooks.com. Use Code: springebookscp. Valid until June 20.

Author Bio

Carol Es

Carol Es is a self-taught artist, writer, and musician born in Los Angeles. Using a wide variety of media, she is known for creating personal narratives that transform a broken history into a positive resolution. Her paintings, drawings, installations, videos, and books have been exhibited nationwide in venues such as Riverside Art Museum, Torrance Art Museum, Lancaster Museum of Art and History, and Craft Contemporary in Los Angeles. Some of her works can be found in the collections at the Getty and the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC. Her collaborative film was also featured in the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale. 

Awarded many honors, including several grants from the National Arts and Disability Center and California Arts Council, she is a two-time recipient of the ARC Grant from the Durfee Foundation, a Pollock-Krasner Fellowship, and the Wynn Newhouse Award. She has written articles of art critique for the Huffington Post and Coagula Art Journal, as well as having poetry published with small presses. She also received a writing grant from Asylum-Arts—a Global Network for Jewish Culture.

Shrapnel in the San Fernando Valley

esart.com

Desert Dog Books

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