My #Utopiacon2017 Experience

In June, I went to Utopiacon in Nashville, which is a conference for authors, writers, bloggers and readers. I had a blast geeking out over books with my best friend, meeting my favorite authors, and of course, getting my books signed.

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Here’s some of the highlights.

Utopiacon 2017_keynoteAmy Harmon, author of Making Faces and The Bird and the Sword, was the keynote speaker. She encouraged aspiring writers to “be a finisher,” and when it comes to writing, “what you don’t know you’ll figure out.” She also did a reading out of The Bird and the Sword, which was amazing because she has this awesome husky voice. I could have listened to her all day.

I got to meet Jennifer L. Armentrout. (Yes, that JLA, the woman who brought us Katy/Daemon from the Lux series, and my personal favorite Layla/Roth from The Dark Elements trilogy.) She’s one of my favorite authors and I did nothing but fangirl in her presence. (I tried to keep it together guys. I really did.)

Utopiacon 2017_Armentrout

I also saw her speak on a panel regarding hybrid authors. JLA talked about how her best career move was taking a risk and publishing with a small press, and discouraged aspiring writers from saying yes to everything. She commented on how that’s why she’s been working non-stop and putting out so many books. (I’m happy she said yes. #sorrynotsorry). Other authors on the panel had great insight. Shannon Mayer, author of Priceless, encouraged writers to invest in their cover and brand, and Elise Kova, author of The Alchemists of the Loom, talked about changing marketing tactics for each series.

Utopiacon 2017 panel

I saw a lot of other great panels and sat through some readings, which are now my favorite thing. Even if you don’t know anything about an author or their books, sit through a reading. I found some great new books this way.

I got to meet C.J. Redwine, author of The Wish Granter. She was so sweet. During a panel on the pressures in publishing, she said, “If I wouldn’t cry at your funeral, I don’t have to care what you think about me.” I’m pretty sure that’s my new life motto.

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Over the weekend, I bought 12 books, which was quite the book haul!

Utopiacon 2017_book haul

I got to meet a lot of authors.

Ginger Scott was so nice. I fangirled about The Hard Count and A Boy Like Me. We talked about the sports romance genre and how we both think that genre should include scenes where the sport is actually played.

Elise Kova seemed so business savvy. I went to her reading of The Alchemists of the Loom and I immediately wanted to read it.

Abbi Glines was quiet, but she signed my book and gave me Rush underwear so I was a happy camper!

Casey Bond was an author I’d never read before, but she spoke so eloquently during a panel, I had to see what she was about.

Amy Harmon was an absolute doll. So nice. I want to give her books a second chance. I think I’ll read The Bird and The Sword since it has some pretty cool magic.

Beth Flynn was such a surprise. I don’t know who was more surprised — me or her. She was shocked that I’d read her books, and I was shocked that this sweet older lady wrote a novel that tore my heart from my body. I joked about needing to join a support group after Nine Minutes, and she jokingly warned me that Out of Time might do me in. She’s pretty much a badass.

Shannon Mayer was another author I hadn’t read before, but I attended her reading and her new series has talking guns…and I was sold from the very first snarky remark. She was also very encouraging when I told her I was an aspiring writer. I kind of want to be her best friend and her Urban Fantasy Rylee Adamson series is next on my TBR.

I didn’t get a picture with Cambria Hebert, but she was fun to talk to, and I got to meet Jasinda Wilder.

The weekend ended with an awards ceremony and a Circus-themed Freakshow Ball. My best friend and I had a great time.

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Overall, Utopiacon 2017 was a success. Unfortunately, this is the final year of the conference, but they did mention a reunion Utopiacon in a few years.

 

 

 

 

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Mini-Reviews in anticipation of UTOPiAcon 2017

This week, I’m going to UTOPiAcon in Nashville with my best friend. I’ve been to this conference before in 2014 and had a blast. I’m looking forward to another weekend of fun and spending way too much money on books.

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There’s going to be a variety of indie authors there, and I’m always on the hunt for my next favorite read. Plus, I’m always down to support an indie author. In anticipation of my trip, I picked up books to try from the list of authors attending. (Ya know, so I can fangirl when I meet them.)

Here’s what I’ve read so far…

#Nerd by Cambria Hebert

23493256Two people from completely different worlds are about to be thrown together…

In more ways than one.

She wants to keep her scholarship. He wants to stay on the team. An awkward alliance doesn’t even begin to cover Rimmel and Romeo’s relationship.

But that’s about to change.

It starts with a dare. An initiation. A challenge.

Quickly, it turns into more. But when you’re a victim of your status, there is no room for anything real. The rules are clear and simple.

Stick to your circle.

And never fall in love with anyone on the outside.

This book was so cute! Yes, it was the typical hot jock falls for nerd because of a bet trope, but it was so well done. I was laughing, swooning and pretty much grinning from ear-to-ear while reading.

VERDICT: Read it if you like sweet contemporary romance. I’ll definitely be reading more from this author.

The Opposite of You by Rachel Higginson

33932353I’ve sworn off men.

All men.

Famous last words, right? You’re expecting some epic tale of reluctant love and my dramatic change of heart? Well, you’re not going to get it.

I’m stubborn. And headstrong. And I’ve just survived the worst three years of my life. After escaping an abusive boyfriend to live in hostels and cheap hotels while I worked my way across Europe, I’ve come to two conclusions.

The first? Now that I’m back home, I’m going to squander my expensive culinary degree on a food truck that caters to the late night drunk crowd.

The second? I’m going to prove to the bastard across the plaza that my street food is better than his fussy five course monstrosities.

Killian Quinn might be Food and Wine’s Chef to Watch Out For. He might have a Michelin Star. He might have every food critic in the city wrapped around his too-large fingers. But he’s also pretentious and unbearably arrogant and the very opposite of me.

So he can keep his unsolicited advice and his late night visits and his cocky smiles. I want none of it. Or him.

I want the opposite.

The Opposite of You was an unexpected surprise. This is an enemies-to-lovers romance, and they hold out from admitting their feelings to each other for a very long time. However, there is plenty of anticipation-building, witty banter between Vera and the hot chef. The star of this book, however, is the food. There is so much emphasis on cooking, recipes and eating.  I was hungry the entire time I was reading.

VERDICT: Very enjoyable. It dragged out a little too long but I was ready to gobble this couple up once they were baked juuuust right.

Nine Minutes by Beth Flynn

23253863On May 15, 1975, fifteen-year-old Ginny Lemon is abducted from a convenience store in Fort Lauderdale by a member of one of the most notorious and brutal motorcycle gangs in South Florida.

From that moment on, her life is forever changed. She gets a new name, a new identity and a new life in the midst of the gang’s base on the edge of the Florida Everglades—a frightening, rough and violent world much like the swamps themselves, where everyone has an alias and loyalty is tantamount to survival.

And at the center of it all is the gang’s leader, Grizz: massive, ruggedly handsome, terrifying and somehow, when it comes to Ginny, tender. She becomes his obsession and the one true love of his life.

So begins a tale of emotional obsession and manipulation, of a young woman ripped from everything she knows and forced to lean on the one person who provides attention, affection and care: her captor. Precocious and intelligent, but still very much a teenager, Ginny struggles to adapt to her existence, initially fighting and then coming to terms with her captivity.

Will she be rescued? Will she escape? Will she get out alive—or get out at all? Part psychological thriller, part coming-of-age novel, filled with mystery, romance and unexpected turns, Nine Minutes takes readers into the world of one motorcycle gang and inside the heart of a young girl, whose abduction brought about its fall.

This book messed me up! It was like an intoxicating drug — super harmful but very addicting. I’m still reeling from all the feels. Look for a full review later on, but I both loved and hated this book. I’m pretty sure I should join a support group. Let me know if you know of one.

VERDICT: Read it, but beware of the major heart-wrenching side effects.

Badd Motherf*cker by Jasinda Wilder

32333456Your wedding day is supposed to be the happiest day of your life, right? That’s what they say, at least. I went into that day hoping I’d get the happiest day of my life. What I got? The worst. I mean, you really can’t get any worse of a day without someone actually dying.

So…I may have gotten just a little drunk, and maybe just a tad impetuous…

And landed myself in a dive bar somewhere in Alaska, alone, still in my wedding dress, half-wasted and heart-broken.

***
Eight brothers, one bar.

Sounds like the beginning to a bad joke, yeah?

I kinda think so.

Wanna hear another joke? A girl walks into a bar, soaking wet and wearing a wedding dress.

I knew I shouldn’t have touched her. She was hammered, for one thing, and heartbroken for another. I’ve chased enough tail to know better. That kinda thing only leads to clinginess, and a clingy female is the last thing on this earth I need.

I got a bar needs running, and only me to run it—at least until my seven wayward brothers decide to show their asses up…

Then this chick walks in, fine as hell, wearing a soaked wedding dress that leaves little enough to the imagination—and I’ve got a hell of an imagination.

I knew I shouldn’t have touched her. Not so much as a finger, not even innocently.

But I did.

This book is exactly what you’d expect it to be based on the title and cover. It’s a hot and sexy romance with an alpha male and fiery heroine. I was thoroughly entertained but it was kinda cookie cutter, in my humble opinion. HOWEVER, this series follows a family of brothers, who are incredibly diverse on the hot spectrum — from brainy, boy-next-door to tatted and dangerous.

VERDICT: If you’re looking for an alpha male fix, try this. I’m looking forward to reading about the different brothers, and I’m hoping to see growth in the writing and originality of plot.

Making Faces by Amy Harmon

27237358Ambrose Young was beautiful. He was tall and muscular, with hair that touched his shoulders and eyes that burned right through you. The kind of beautiful that graced the covers of romance novels, and Fern Taylor would know. She’d been reading them since she was thirteen. But maybe because he was so beautiful he was never someone Fern thought she could have…until he wasn’t beautiful anymore.

Making Faces is the story of a small town where five young men go off to war, and only one comes back. It is the story of loss. Collective loss, individual loss, loss of beauty, loss of life, loss of identity. It is the tale of one girl’s love for a broken boy, and a wounded warrior’s love for an unremarkable girl. This is a story of friendship that overcomes heartache, heroism that defies the common definitions, and a modern tale of Beauty and the Beast where we discover that there is little beauty and a little beast in all of us.

Amy Harmon is going to be speaking at the conference, and I have a lot of her books but I’ve never read them. I started with Making Faces, but I have to be honest, I couldn’t finish it. I DNF’ed it at 40%. It was sooooo slow and boring. Her characters had depth but it was like watching a National Geographic documentary. It’s good to know but is it necessary to tell me every little detail? I’ve struggled with this because I’ve read so many good reviews. I WANT to like her and this book had so much promise from the premise. If you have any insight, let me know. Otherwise, I digress.

VERDICT: Didn’t finish it. Maybe she’s just not my cup of tea?

This is Falling by Ginger Scott

22756190First, I had to remember how to breathe. Then, I had to learn how to survive. Two years, three months and sixteen days had passed since I was the Rowe Stanton from before, since tragedy stole my youth and my heart went along with it.

When I left for college, I put a thousand miles between my future and my past. I’d made a choice—I was going to cross back to the other side, to live with the living. I just didn’t know how.

And then I met Nate Preeter.

An All-American baseball player, Nate wasn’t supposed to notice a ghost-of-a-girl like me. But he did. He shouldn’t want to know my name. But he did. And when he learned my secret and saw the scars it left behind, he was supposed to run. But he didn’t.

My heart was dead, and I was never supposed to belong to anyone. But Nate Preeter had me feeling, and he made me want to be his. He showed me everything I was missing.

And then he showed me how to fall.

Gah! I LOVE Ginger Scott! She’s becoming one of my auto-buy authors. She writes the best kind of sports romance with realistic characters that face hard life challenges and obstacles. This was such a sweet romance. It was endearing and made me laugh, but watching Rowe struggle was heart-breaking. It was so well done!

VERDICT: Read it! Read EVERYTHING by Ginger Scott. I know I will.

The Hard Count by Ginger Scott

The Hard Count by Ginger Scott is the first book I’ve read from this author, and right off the bat, I was struck by how detailed and intimate the writing was. It was like I was right. There. This let me connect with the main characters on an emotional level fairly quickly.

30304059Nico Medina’s world is eleven miles away from mine. During the day, it’s a place where doors are open—where homes are lived in, and neighbors love. But when the sun sets, it becomes a place where young boys are afraid, where eyes watch from idling cars that hide in the shadows and wicked smoke flows from pipes.

West End is the kind of place that people survive. It buries them—one at a time, one way or another. And when Nico was a little boy, his mom always told him to run.

I’m Reagan Prescott—coach’s daughter, sister to the prodigal son, daughter in the perfect family.
Life on top.
Lies.
My world is the ugly one. Private school politics and one of the best high school football programs in the country can break even the toughest souls. Our darkness plays out in whispers and rumors, and money and status trump all. I would know—I’ve watched it kill my family slowly, strangling us for years.

In our twisted world, a boy from West End is the only shining light.
Quarterback.
Hero.
Heart.
Good.
I hated him before I needed him.
I fell for him fast.
I loved him when it was almost too late.

When two ugly worlds collide, even the strongest fall. But my world…it hasn’t met the boy from West End.

Another aspect of the writing that struck me right away was the meticulously detailed sports scenes. Football is a huge piece of this story as Reagan captures it on film and Nico attempts to pursue his dream as a starting quarterback. As a football fan in real life, I was impressed at how specific the football scenes were, down to the details of each individual play of the game. I’ve never read a sports romance with so much attention on the game itself. I found it upped the ante and made the story more exciting.

This story was very emotional. It was built on the give and take of people’s emotions whether it’s how the daughter feels about her father or brother or potential love interest. There’s a particularly moving and heart-breaking scene toward the end that had me in tears. It’s been awhile since a novel made me cry. Seeing, or reading rather, a guy completely lose it will do that to a girl.

The underlying theme of racism and “class-ism” was an intriguing element of the story. There were times that I thought it was a bit much or too cliché with the diverse boy dating a white girl in a prejudice private school setting. However, it’s a cliché for a reason and I enjoyed the way the author used this stereotype to complete her story. It reminded me a lot of Simone Elkeles Perfect Chemistry series.

STARS: 4 out of 5