May Checkpoint! #TBR2022RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

Welcome to the 5th checkpoint for our annual TBR Pile Challenge! I hope you are all making good progress and enjoying yourselves (and your reading selections! We have 100 reviews/check-in posts linked up already, with 7 months to go, and I think that’s beyond awesome! Way to go, you all! 

I’m pleased to report that, in this 5th month of the challenge, I have read 6 of my 12 books! That puts me right on pace, with summer freedom (ha!) coming up. I hope to get a little bit ahead during the summer months, so this actually puts me in a good place. If I can finish one more this month, then I’ll be at 7 of 14, which is my *actual* half-way goal, since I plan to complete my alternates.

My Progress: 6 of 12 Completed

As you can see, I haven’t made any reviewing progress since last month. I’m currently reading Book 7 from my challenge list, which is Mary Kinzie’s A Poet’s Guide to Poetry. This one is a chunkster and we’re meant to take our time with it, so it’s going to take a while to finish. I have some poetry collections on my list, still, and a couple regular-length novels, so I’m going to try to read those simultaneously this summer in order to continue making progress on my challenge list rather than stalling on one long book.

Books read:

  1. Chicago Poems (1916) by Carl Sandburg
  2. When My Brother was an Aztec (2012) by Natalie Diaz
  3. Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) by Jesmyn Ward
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) by Robert M. Pirsig
  5. A People’s History of the United States (1999) by Howard Zinn
  6. The Warmth of Other Suns (2010) by Isabel Wilkerson (not pictured)

How are you doing?


Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!

MINI-CHALLENGE #2 WINNER: Jane from Just Reading a Book! 


Interview: Kathe Koja’s Dark Factory

I’m pleased to welcome back to the blog, Kathe Koja! Kathe is one of my favorite contemporary writers, having penned some of my favorite books, such as Under the Poppy, Christopher Wild, and Buddha Boy. Today, Kathe is here to talk a little about her new project, DARK FACTORY. Scroll down for my interview with the author and then keep going for details about the book and a $50 Giveaway from Meerkat Press!


AB: In March, I had the privilege of receiving an ARC of Dark Factory, and I can say it’s hard to imagine a better take on it than Cory Doctorow’s masterful review and description. In the book itself, we’re reminded that, “The Factory is always more than what you see.” I’m wondering, though, if you can tell us a little bit about this project in your own words. What would you like readers to know?

KK: Agreed on Cory’s fantastic deep dive and review! (Steven Shaviro went diving as well.) And it’s especially interesting that in the story, Jonas Siegler, who conceived of, opened, and runs the club, is the one who says “The Factory is always more than what you see,” when Jonas himself is conscious of not seeing, never seeing, enough, which is why he relies on Ari Regon, the character at the absolute heart of the Factory, Jonas’ “number one guy on the floor.”  

And I do know how Jonas feels. Working on this project, I was always conscious that there was more happening, more moving parts to the narrative, than I was seeing or maybe was capable of seeing, at any given time. The story of this dance club contains, and is contained by, the story of a much larger and more mysterious world, a world I entered as the characters did, pretty much just one step ahead. It was exhilarating, but bewildering sometimes too, as I worked to put all those pieces together. 

This project, the novel and the site, is far bigger than anything I’ve ever attempted, and uses my writing skills and my experience making immersive real-life events, to create immersive fiction, to draw the reader in and invite them to dance, to create, to play. The site is made to reward curiosity, and offer lots of ways for people to engage–a shared playlist, and quizzes, and contests–and collaborating with Tricia Reeks, of the endlessly creative Meerkat Press, means that the site feels sleek and gorgeous and flashy, just like a night at the club.

AB: As you know, I’ve been reading your books and interacting with you on social media for more than a decade. In that time, one thing I’ve noticed about both your writing and your public presence is that there seems to be a strong positive concern for community. Can you talk a little bit about why community is important to you and how it influences your stories, particularly Dark Factory

KK: Dark Factory is completely centered on, and in, community, the shared community of consciousness, however that manifests: on a dancefloor, in a conversation, in a silent spark of recognition, all the myriad ways we touch each other and the world. Nothing exists on its own, not in the natural world, not in the neural world, not in the constructed universe of the internet: everything is a link. Remember “six degrees of separation”? So if we exist in this state of constant connection, but we don’t acknowledge that, we don’t honor that engagement, how can we not go wrong? We’re fighting against reality every step of the way. Dark Factory asks the reader to engage because engagement is our natural state of being. 

I saw this so perfectly in action when I was creating and producing immersive live events: things would happen, artful, playful things, sometimes very profound things, because we were all together in one place, all working to make and enjoy the same experience. The people who joined us – I really hesitate to use the word “audience” – were an active and essential part of what was being made. Our dress rehearsals were called “beta nights,” when we’d invite people to come and experience the performance, so we could find out if, and how, the thing we’d worked to make actually meshed and flowered with, involved and invited a response from, the people we actually made it for. And Dark Factory is constructed that same way, it’s made to connect. So I’m inviting readers to explore the site, follow the story threads there, see what speaks to you and what sparks for you, come on and play!

AB: In the last couple of years, so many of us have struggled physically and psychologically. Have you had a chance, yet, to reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic and what it meant for you as a writer? How has the pandemic influenced you and/or the creation of Dark Factory? Was writing this one a different kind of experience?

KK: So many struggles, on so many levels – including politically – have been so concurrent for us all, that I don’t think we can see the shape of the damage yet. I know I have no way of knowing how I’ve changed in these last years, other than that I have, and I need to accommodate that. There’s a line on my giant mood board for Dark Factory – “I would like to disabuse you of the notion that things are ever going back to normal” – that spoke strongly to me, in the years before and during the plague, while I was writing the book. And that’s our “new normal.” 

What also surprised me, but maybe shouldn’t have, is how much this book was utterly about joy, in a time that seemed so often to have no joy at all.

AB: Given the political climate in the United States, I can’t help but think about your book, Christopher Wild, and how central the idea of the writer-activist is to that plot. What are your thoughts or concerns about the artist’s life, or role, in contemporary society? Does any of this make its way into Dark Factory

KK: Absolutely. Both the main characters, Ari and Max, are steeped in their society, though from vastly different points on the compass; both are working artists, both depend on response to continue their work, both are happiest and most fulfilled when they’re making

The difference between them and Marlowe, of Christopher Wild, is neither Ari nor Max are overtly political (though Max would disagree with that, I’d imagine). But art is political. Sometimes it goes head to head with power, sometimes it just keeps walking through the storm, but there is no way to authentically create as part of your own time and not relate politically to that time. We see this most sharply in times of sharp conflict, like now, but it’s always there. 

AB: Dark Factory is, as its description says, a dance club, and you’ve shared your playlist online. Can you tell us a bit about the importance of music to you and Dark Factory? (Did any of the music that spoke to you throughout the project surprise you? Which songs or artists do you still go back to?)

KK: Music is a huge part of the Factory’s DNA, in the novel and in the novel’s writing: I listened to a ton of music, plenty of Berlin and Detroit techno, and discovered a lot of amazing DJs – two new faves for me are Sama Abdulhadi and the Blessed Madonna – while Green Velvet was always part of whatever I listened to. And because one playlist is definitely never enough, the site will feature an open playlist for readers to add their favorites, and keep the dancefloor going.

And music is so immediate, and so emotional, to all of us, there are songs we cherish, dancefloor moments we never forget, when the music seems to be – is – speaking directly to us. Felix, the DJ whose musical evolution drives so much of the Factory story, embodies that experience, and takes it to a new level that’s both beautiful and intense, personal and public; even global. 

AB: Please include something you’d like to share that I might have forgotten to ask! 

KK: Dark Factory is a lot of things, as we’ve been noting, but it’s also very much a story about love: the passionate attachments and creative bonding between Felix and Ari, Ari and Max, Max and Marfa. There are as many ways to love as there are to create, if we stay open, and let our instincts and our hearts lead us wherever we need to go.


DARK FACTORY by Kathe Koja

RELEASE DATE: May 10, 2022

GENRE: Speculative Fiction / SciFi / LGBT / Literary



Welcome to Dark Factory! You may experience strobe effects, Y reality, DJ beats, love, sex, betrayal, triple shot espresso, broken bones, broken dreams, ecstasy, self-knowledge, and the void.

Dark Factory is a dance club: three floors of DJs, drinks, and customizable reality, everything you see and hear and feel. Ari Regon is the club’s wild card floor manager, Max Caspar is a stubborn DIY artist, both chasing a vision of true reality. And rogue journalist Marfa Carpenter is there to write it all down. Then a rooftop rave sets in motion a fathomless energy that may drive Ari and Max to the edge of the ultimate experience.

Dark Factory is Kathe Koja’s wholly original new novel from Meerkat Press, that combines her award-winning writing and her skill directing immersive events, to create a story that unfolds on the page, online, and in the reader’s creative mind.

Join us at The story has already begun.

BUY LINKS:  Meerkat Press | Amazon Barnes & Noble

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Kathe Koja writes novels and short fiction, and creates and produces immersive fiction performances, both solo and with a rotating ensemble of artists. Her work crosses and combines genres, and her books have won awards, been multiply translated, and optioned for film and performance. She is based in Detroit and thinks globally. She can be found at

Website  |  Twitter  |  Facebook

GIVEAWAY: $50 Meerkat Gift Card


Two YA Novels: Ready When You Are and And Then They Lived

Cover of Gary Lonesborough's novel, Ready When You Are. Gold lettering on blue background, silhouette of two boys holding hands.

First published as The Boy from the Mish, Gary Lonesborough’s debut young adult novel, Ready When You Are, is a delightful and surprising tale of young love and coming-of-age for two Aboriginal Australian boys.

I’ll admit that the first couple of chapters were rough-going for me, so much so that the book almost become for me a rare-DNF. (I’m both very good at picking books I think I’ll enjoy and very persistent, almost refusing to abandon a book even if I’m not enjoying it.) That said, I’m so glad I continued with this one, because after the introductory chapters, Lonesborough’s story opens wide, compels rather than invites the reader in, and becomes unputdownable.

At the center of the story is Jackson, who lives in an Aboriginal community called “the Mish” (short for Mission). He, his mother, and his siblings exist on the outskirts of a contemporary suburb. Jackson’s story is going to be unfortunately familiar to readers of stories from Indigenous and persons-of-color from the United States and elsewhere, but there’s something strikingly unique about the way Lonesborough crats this one, supported by talented writing and an imaginative and romantic but realistic voice, but buoyed most of all by the author’s lived experiences.

Jackson’s story is relatable on so many levels, from the universal experience of growing up and coming of age in the modern world—making a self for oneself—to his coming out experience, and even his struggle to understand and connect with his own cultural heritage in the face of an often intolerant and domineering society around him. I think the title, Ready When You Are—says it all. Jackson is fortunate to meet someone who is patient with him, and just confident and daring enough to bring Jackson out of his shell. It’s a message to the reader, too. As I said in my Goodreads review, I almost gave up on this one, but then something wonderful happened: I fell in love.

Cover image of Steven Salvatore's novel, And They Lived... Two boys kissing with starry night background.

Steven Salvatore’s And They Lived . . . is billed as, “a sex-positive, fairytale-inspired YA novel that celebrates first love and self-acceptance.” That is a pretty good description, to me, and I’ll admit it was a little weird reading this one in our current age of incense over books’ “corrupting” influence. (Picture: Eyes rolling so hard they get stuck.)

I noticed some complaints about the lack of realism in this one, mostly referring to what happen to the main character, Chase Arthur, in art school. I don’t have the experience of going to an elite art school, so I can’t comment on how believable his plot lone is (meaning the courses he took and the internship he competes for in the first year), but I don’t really care, either. So what if it’s not entirely plausible? It’s called fiction for a reason—and I think it’s likely that there are programs like this at certain institutions anyway.

Now that that’s out of the way, some things I loved about this book are its characters and its tensions. There are high-quality, well-crafted characters in this one, from the devoted sidekick to the irritating friend who becomes a favorite, to the tortured love interest, and of course, the rival and villain. One of the best features is that none of the characters is entirely as they seem, nor do any of them remain static. It’s impressive in any novel to see all the characters, even minor ones, grow or change or surprise us, but it’s especially interesting in a young adult novel where there’s usually less development for the side characters.

I also loved the tensions built into this one. The book is likened to What If It’s Us for good reason. There’s a similar “will they/won’t they” conflict happening, but it’s well done. This kind of plot (and the love triangle one) are so overdone and so easily done poorly, but when they’re done well, they speak to something deep inside all of us, I think, and it resonates.

I will say, I was expecting more of a fairy tale vibe because the book was advertised that way. It is easy to see the fairy tale influence, though, both in the plot itself, where the main character is obsessed with fairy tales, but also in the metafictional aspect, where the plot arc and the characters and motivations absolutely fit into fairy tale tropes, despite there being no fantastical or magical realism elements in the story itself.

Lastly, I was glad to read a young adult book that deals positively with mental health treatment and encourages those struggling with their mental health to get help.

Both Ready When You Are and And They Lived . . . are new young adult releases this year (Spring 2022), and they’re wonderful additions to the genre.

April Checkpoint! #TBR2022RBR

Hello, TBR Pile Challengers! 

We have made it through the First Quarter of this year’s TBR Pile Challenge! We already have 90 reviews/checkpoints linked up on our Mr. Linky, which is pretty great! How are you all doing with your selections? Any major successes (or total DNFs?)

My Progress: 6 of 12 Completed

So far, I’ve read and reviewed 6 of my required 12 books, which puts me just slightly ahead of schedule (since I plan to read my two alternates as well). I just started reading Book 7 today, A POET’S GUIDE TO POETRY, so if I can get that review posted before end of May, that will allow me to enter the summer months exactly on schedule. Summer is when I will probably get quite a few titles finished and (hopefully) put myself well ahead of pace! My plan all along has been to read all 14 of the books on my list, and I’d like to do that by the December 15 final checkpoint so that I’ve got everything posted before the challenge ends. But, as always, this is T.B.D. 

Books read:

  1. Chicago Poems (1916) by Carl Sandburg
  2. When My Brother was an Aztec (2012) by Natalie Diaz
  3. Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) by Jesmyn Ward
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) by Robert M. Pirsig
  5. A People’s History of the United States (1999) by Howard Zinn
  6. The Warmth of Other Suns (2010) by Isabel Wilkerson (not pictured)

How are you doing?


Below, you’re going to find the infamous Mr. Linky widget. If you read and review any challenge books this month, please link-up on the widget below. This Mr. Linky will be re-posted every month so that we can compile a large list of all that we’re reading and reviewing together this year. Each review that is linked-up on this widget throughout the year may also earn you entries into future related giveaways, so don’t forget to keep this updated!


As we celebrate this 25% milestone for 2022, I introduce you to our second Mini-Challenge. Here’s all you need to do: Comment on this post with a book review WRITTEN BY ANOTHER CHALLENGER that you would recommend we read. So, yes, spend a little time visiting our fellow readers, maybe even say hello while you’re on their blog, but then come back here and comment with a review you really enjoyed or appreciated in some way. If you can tell us why (briefly), all the better!

You can find a list of everyone who has linked-up reviews so far by clicking on the “LINK UP YOUR REVIEWS” text below. Remember, you should also be posting your progress links there, too, so that you’re collecting entries toward the big $50 grand prize at the end of the year. Good luck to you all! Happy reading and happy blog hopping!


Giveaway: Van Gogh Journals

Dear Readers,

I’m pleased to offer two sets of Van Gogh lined journals as giveaways for my blog subscribers. I was fortunate enough to receive three sets and have decided to keep one and share the other two with you all.

All you need to do to be entered is complete this Rafflecopter!*

*Be sure to read the rules/guidelines below before entering.


  • Subscribing to the blog via email or WordPress is required.
  • Optional bonus entries for following on Twitter and Facebook.
  • Optional bonus entries for Tweeting about the giveaway.
  • Winners need to be reachable via email (the one you use to subscribe). I will respond to winners after the Giveaway closes on April 17th and winners will have 48-hours to reply with their shipping information before a new winner is chosen.
  • Two winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter (randomizer). Each winner receives one set of three journals. Giveaway is open internationally.
  • I am not responsible for any lost or damaged products. I’m a lowly blogger (non-corporate entity) with little funds and am doing this for fun/free. I’m under no obligation to make up for misplaced packages or damaged items, or whatever. If you get the urge to complain, reassess your life choices and chill out.