New Release BREAKING FREE by SM Koz: Review, Interview, FREE on Amazon


I had the pleasure of reading the ARC of Breaking Free, a YA/NA contemporary romance by SM KOZ.


It’s free on Amazon 8/1 and 8/2…get after it HERE.

First is my review, then an interview with the author.

Breaking FreeBreaking Free by S.M. Koz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love Blooms in Wilderness Program

This New Adult romance will be released 8-1-14, and the psychological aspects of the story enticed me to read an advanced copy.

Kelsie is a 17-year-old cheerleader who’s a hot mess. Her best friend died in a car accident, and Kelsie unfairly blames herself. To numb her emotional pain, she starts self-injuring. While cutting oneself is horrifying, I didn’t fully appreciate the horror until I was right there with Kelsie, feeling her pain and her disgust from taking it out on her body.

To try to curb her harmful behavior, Kelsie’s father sends her to a wilderness therapy program. She is ill-prepared and ticked off, with her huge suitcase and even bigger attitude. But the counselor Chris knows just how to handle her, and Kelsie settles down enough to get through the first day, eventually growing closer to the other teens in the program.

JC is the young man who captures her attention the most. He’s athletic, light-hearted, and also blames himself for a loved one dying.

Keslie tells her story to the woman hired to keep her safe—Marta—after she finishes the program. Therefore, the novel consists of flashbacks, which might not have been the best choice for the pacing of the plot. I thought the story took a while to get going. Also, the nicknames Kelsie bestows on each program participant seemed to interfere with clarity and my connection to the characters.

But once the plot kicks into gear, I was riveted. Another boy in the program has it out for JC, and a brewing storm threatens the safety of the group. That’s when Kelsie is forced to grow up fast, discovering that people may not be what they seem.

I dislike when parents are portrayed as incompetent twits in YA and NA stories. Though Kelsie’s stepmother is a shrew, I’m glad her father works hard at redeeming himself.

Kelsie’s interactions with JC provide much-needed lightness given the darkness they’ve experienced. The characters seem to be their age, which I appreciate.

I grab a handful of shirts and organize them by type, short-sleeved or long-sleeved, and color. After a few minutes, JC stands behind me and places his hand around my waist. “You really are OCD.”
“Is that a problem for you?”
“Yes, that is the final straw. I can handle everything else, but putting my shirts in rainbow order is too much.”


I loved the ending, which left me with a relieved, buoyant feeling. This is a wonderful debut novel!

View all my reviews


And now an interview with SM Koz:

Jennifer Lane (JL): Welcome to the blog, SM! How did you get started as an author?


SM Koz (SK)Thanks for inviting me! Technically, I first started writing about nine years ago. The story was a murder mystery that took place on a cruise ship and one of the main characters had an English bulldog named Penelope. I wrote two pages, realized it was too hard, and then never looked at it again for five years. After my husband and I moved to a sleepy little village, I found myself with a lot of free time. One day while I was cleaning up computer files, I ran across my story with Penelope and was somewhat impressed by what I read. Having lots of time on my hands, I decided to write a full-length YA novel. That one was about a girl who moves to the beach to live with her older sister for the summer and falls in love with a boy as they help a stranded dolphin, named Maurice, recover from a mysterious illness. That one will never be published, but it’s fun to go back and see what my first attempt at a novel was like. Since then, I’ve been writing about one book a year, some fanfiction and some original. Breaking Free is the only one I feel compelled to publish at this time, though.

JL: Blogger Christina Rodriguez recommended I read Breaking Free for the psychological elements, and I’m grateful she did! What inspired the therapy aspect of this story?


SK: I love Christina’s blog! Not many people are aware of this, but she helped me with my translations. As you know, I have a couple Hispanic characters, so I wanted to make sure my rudimentary Spanish made for realistic dialogue. She was a huge help!

As far as the inspiration for the story, I have a friend and a family member who have both cut in the past. When I first learned about self-injury, I didn’t understand why people would purposely hurt themselves and, therefore, I thought it was to attract attention. I ended up spending quite a bit of time researching the topic, which opened my eyes. Most people who cut don’t do it for attention. In fact, like Kelsie in the book, they try to hide what they’re doing. They’re ashamed, but it’s beyond their control as it has become an addictive coping mechanism to try and deal with their overwhelming emotions, whether it’s depression, anxiety, whatever.

After learning so much about self-injury, I wanted to help others who were in my position—wishing to help their friends, but not understanding how to or even why their friends did what they did. That’s when I decided to turn it into a story. Because I typically write adventure-filled books, I knew immediately that the main characters would be in the wilderness for their therapy and run into some unexpected hurdles along the way. I think it ended up being a nice mix of emotion, suspense, and romance with a couple plot twists to keep things interesting.

JL: You’re getting some lovely reviews. What has been your favorite comment about your debut novel?


SK: Thanks. It’s hard to pick just one, but there have been a couple people who have commented on the realistic nature of the story. Furthermore, some of these individuals have indicated they themselves have experience with cutting. Although I did an incredible amount of research for this book, it’s always challenging to write about something that you have no firsthand experience with. So, receiving this type of feedback provides me with a great deal of satisfaction. If people who share similar backgrounds are able to relate and connect to Kelsie, then I hope they’ll find strength in her story and learn better coping methods for their own self-injury behaviors. With Breaking Free, if I prevent or help stop one person from cutting, then I’ll feel like it was a success.

JL: I see on Goodreads that you’re planning a Young Adult novel next. What draws you to YA?


SK: Initially, I thought it would be easier. My story with Penelope was meant for adults, but I felt like my plot wasn’t complex enough for that audience. So, I switched to YA for my next one, but after writing the entire thing, I determined that plot was way too simplistic even for teen readers. That’s when I realized YA isn’t differentiated from adult fiction by complexity or writing quality, it’s about the type of story, the characters, and unique conflicts.

I enjoy slipping into the complex minds of teenage characters. They don’t always do what you’d expect or behave the way you’d like them to, but that’s okay. It’s all about their underlying nature. Everyone makes mistakes as they grow into the person they want to be. I enjoy playing with that because I think it allows for more interesting characterization and a lot of internal conflict as well as external.

Breaking Free is my first book that really focuses on the emotional complexities of the main character as the major plot line, though. I thought I might have a difficult time writing this type of story, but the words flowed relatively easily. In fact, I wrote this three time faster than anything else I’ve written. I’m not sure, but think I might have found my niche 🙂

JL: Thanks for visiting the blog, SM, and best of luck on your writing career!

SKThanks so much for having me!

Review: Sometimes Never by Cheryl McIntyre

I haven’t been keeping up with my blog lately. Those who are doing the A to Z Challenge really impress me!

Reading, writing, and my day job have filled my days so I wanted to share a review for an excellent mental health read: Sometimes Never

Sometimes Never (Sometimes Never, #1)Sometimes Never by Cheryl McIntyre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Putting the Fun in Dysfunction

When I participated in the Mental Health Giveaway Hop, I asked for recommendations of favorite psychological reads. Blogger VanillaOrchid recommended this series, and I’m so glad she did! I hadn’t heard of this author but I plan on gobbling up the series based on my love for this first book. (Bookworm Brandee also recommended Reason to Breathe which I plan to review soon).

While Sometimes Never touches on sad issues like parent abandonment, parent death, sexual abuse, and self-injury, the characters address these issues in such a lighthearted manner that I often found myself cracking up. It’s rare that I love both the heroine and the hero as much as I fell for Hope and Mason.

Hope Love (yes, that’s really her name) is a high school foster kid who doesn’t believe in relationships or love (despite her last name). She’s a candy addict who plays drums for a band. She’s spunky and irreverent. Here she is typing away in an internet chat room:

ASL flashed on the computer screen. Age, sex, and location. I sat back and thought, Who do I want to be today? I never tell the truth. Seventeen, female, living in a house with seven other kids in Ohio. Like a fucked up, twenty-first century version of The Brady Bunch.
Usually when the first question has to do with your age and sex, it’s a horny, middle aged man looking to cyber. When I’m in a mood, like I was last night — sick of the world and all its bullshit — I like to put on my Fergus persona. Fergus is a fifteen year old boy, recently discovering his gay sexuality.


Priceless.

Mason is an eighteen-year-old who just moved to Hope’s town and of course he notices her right away. His dark hair and green eyes sound delicious, but what most attracted me is his personality. He also has a wonderful sense of humor:

Hope Love. What kind of name is that?
“I think I’m in love,” I say to my mom. And then I laugh because I hear some kind of pun in my statement. I play around with the words in my head. I Hope I can get in Love. I’d Love to have some Hope.
“Mason, don’t play with me,” Mom says, but I hear that little sliver of hope in her voice. Ha, I’d Love a little sliver of Hope. I could do this all day.


Hope and Mason seem to bring out the best in each other. They’re both sarcastic individuals who have been through tough times, but they actually feel happy in each other’s presence. Unfortunately, Hope is sort of dating the lead singer in her band (Park–love his name) and she has a dark secret that makes her feel unworthy of being happy. But Mason doesn’t scare away easily. Each time he unwittingly pushes Hope too hard, he gently apologizes until her panic settles down.

I like how Mason realizes he can’t “save” Hope, as much as he wants to. I love the quirky realness of the characters. The only aspects I didn’t love are the title and the reason Mason’s father died, which seemed a tad overdramatic to me.

I hear the next books in this series deal with side characters from this novel, and I can’t wait to see what this author has in store for me next! I highly recommend this series.

View all my reviews

Volunteering with Teens: Guest Post

Thanks to Sara from Nanny Pro for her guest post on volunteering with teens who have mental illness. Take it away, Sara! 
 Volunteering and Teens with Mental Illness 
When you consider volunteering, most people think of the local soup kitchen or the animal shelter. These are the more common ways to give back in your community—feeding the hungry or assisting helpless animals. But those seeking more of a challenge should try volunteering with teens, particularly teens with mental illness. Mental illness is a growing problem for today’s teens and there are many different organizations around the world to help them through this time. 
Everyone knows that teens can be a tough group. Babies and children are innocent, fun, and sweet…the elderly are wise, calm, and full of wonderful stories…but teens needing the most help are the ones that don’t want it or don’t think they need it. You remember your teenage years–you and your friends were wanna-be rebels who thought you knew everything
There are several organizations across the United States that help teens, but few help youth with emotional and mental problems. Mental illness has always carried a negative social stigma, partly because it’s not a physical problem that you can see. 
Teens with mental illness are those that pose possible harm to themselves or to others. Teens with mental illnesses like bipolar or major depressive disorders may exhibit frightening behaviors like suicidal and homicidal threats or attempts, self-harm, stealing, and drug use. 
Throw a life raft to these teens! 
You can help these teens by volunteering your time at special centers dedicated to aiding them in their journeys. Teens need a positive adult to look up to, so join them for an activity like:
 • Baking and cooking 
 • Arts and crafts 
 • Career fairs 
 • Talking and advising 
 • Writing exercises 
 • Physical activity like tossing a ball 
Working with troubled teens isn’t for everyone. It’s only for those looking to make a difference in a teen’s life by acting in a mature, friendly, and positive manner. Subject matters may come up that can be very uncomfortable and one needs to be able to figure out how to respond and handle these kind of conversations. 
For more information on where and how you can help out teens with issues, check with your local teen programs and/or visit the National Alliance of Mental Illness
Author Bio 
Sara is an active nanny as well as an active freelance writer. She is a frequent contributor to Nanny Pro
Thank you, Sara! As a psychologist, I agree that teen mental illness is on the rise. Students arrive to college with more psychopathology and prescription psychotropic medication than ever before. While volunteering with this age group might be a challenge, it can also be so fun! So get your inner snark on and join in this vibrant, clever group.