May Reading Recap

The first book this month was The Agony House by Cherie Priest, a YA horror story featuring a comic book. How does one incorporate a comic book into a novel? By including pages of said comic book in the chapters, and it was done really, really well. I loved how the creep factor was cranked up subtly throughout the story until things hit the fan at the climax.

The other book that I read was Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy. I watched (and loved) the Netflix movie, and it was what made me borrow the eBook from the library. Understandably, the book and the movie are pretty different. The pageant is nowhere near as prominent in the book as it is in the movie; that space is filled by compelling relationships, both romantic and platonic. It was definitely worth the read (even though I missed seeing more of the Hideaway!).

That’s… all I read in May. It was a bit of a rough month, so I’m happy with being able to get through those two books. I’m hoping that June is better.

Have you read anything good recently? 

The Book Rules

Rule 1
Never regret staying up late to read a book. Call it a bad decision in the morning when you’re struggling against a sleep-fogged brain, but never regret it. Because if reading makes you happy, then you should never regret a moment of it.

Rule 2
Avoid starting a new book after 8 PM. Stories are supposed to get their claws in and not let you go, and it’s 2 AM before you know it. Feel free to ignore this rule on weekends or holidays. Or whenever.

Rule 3
When the price of an eBook and a paperback are close–and you can afford it–spring for the paperback. There are few things better in this world than being the first person to crack open a brand new book and stick your nose between the freshly printed pages.

Rule 4
Carry a book at all times: in a purse, on a phone, etc. You never know when you could be stuck waiting, and the articles in magazines left on waiting room tables are never as interesting as they seem.

Rule 5
Anything flat–or mostly flat–can be used as a bookmark. Those old Pokemon cards lying around, that receipt tucked into the bottom of a plastic bag, and the decal that never made it onto your car.

Rule 6
Bookmarks bought at bookstores or in souvenir shops never actually get used in books. Your inclination with something so pretty and shiny is to keep it in its plastic so that the edges don’t fray and the cardstock doesn’t bend. Metal bookmarks are the exception.

Rule 7
Splurge on autographed editions. With signed books becoming a new norm in bookstores and other retailers, they’ve never been easier to find. Far easier than hoping the author will be doing a signing within a reasonable distance from home.

Book Review: Queen of Someday by Sherry D. Ficklin

Queen of SomedayFifteen year old Sophie faces down a pack of thieves on her way to the Russian Imperial Court, and it turns out to be a sign of things to come. Her mother’s determination to make her a Queen means Sophie must master balancing the demands of Empress Elizabeth and Prince Peter because failure means ruin for her family. But then Sophie’s world begins to teeter out of control when she begins to fall for a handsome stranger in court.

Queen of Someday is a strong start to the “Stolen Empire” series. It tells a less than historically accurate of Catherine the Great’s life before she became the now-famous ruler of Russia. I read the second book of the series back over the summer (Queen of Tomorrow), so I had a pretty good idea of how this book would end. However Sherry Ficklin’s Sophie is so well written that I more than momentarily hoped and believed it would end differently.

Sophie, later Catherine, is a fantastic narrator. She’s a mix of physical and emotional strength, manipulative cunning, and kindness. Sophie comes off as a real teenager who acts the way I’d expect a teen to act, whether she’s miscalculates situations or tries to keep those she cares about from harm. Her narration makes me want to reread book #2 and pick up the final book in the series.

The layers of the characters also made this story a page turner. Just when I though that I’d figured someone out, there was another side of them that managed to complicate things for Sophie. I’d forgotten how much I liked that unpredictability from the second book, and I’m glad that it comes into play during the first book in the series.

While it’s not going to happen anytime soon as I already have too many books in my to-be-read pile, I’m going to eventually pick up physical copies of Stolen Empire books and that includes the third one, Queen of Always.

Queen of Someday would be a great book for anyone interested in historical fiction.

Rating: 

Queen of Someday by Sherry D. Ficklin is published by Clean Teen Publishing and is available as an eBook and in print.

Book Review: Haunted by Lynn Carthage

The Arnaud Manor has sat empty for years, and the building wears disrepair on its walls. But for Phoebe and her family, the Arnaud ancestral home is a fresh start from the life that they left in San Fransico. Phoebe can’t remember why they left, exactly, but she knows that the blame for their hasty departure rests squarely on her shoulders. However she’s quickly realizing dealing with her oblivious family is the least of her worries. Because the Arnaud Manor isn’t as empty as it seems. And its most dangerous inhabitant is hungry for blood.

Reading this book felt like riding a roller coaster, complete with highs of This book is great! and lows where I just want it to be over. The haunted house concept sparked my interest, and I loved the creepiness of the scene where Phoebe comes face-to-face with the villain for the first time. That was the stuff of nightmares.

But the tension seemed off in the majority of Haunted. Like I went for long periods of time where Phoebe tried to figure out what she did in San Francisco, and it seemed like those scenes should have oozed tension. But they didn’t. Yes, her situation stunk. I just couldn’t find a reason to root for her in those scenes. Perhaps blame for that partially rests on me and my lack of interest in stories driven by emotional conflict rather than physical danger.

Probably the most clever part of the story happened to be the twist that came halfway through the book. It brought together a lot of loose threads that had been billowing in the breeze. Though the author let herself get caught up with the concept and made the ending drag on way past the climax.

Haunted would be a great read for someone interested in a haunted house story that has an emotionally-driven story line as well.

Rating: 

Haunted by Lynn Carthage will be published on February 24th, 2015 in paperback by Kensington Books.

**I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley.com in return for an honest, unbiased review.

Book Review: Home Sweet Anywhere by Lynne Martin

Lynne Martin and her husband, Tim, decided that a stationary retirement in California just wasn’t right for them. Their wanderlust prodded them to make a life-altering decision: to sell their home and spend their retirement on the road. Navigating the confusion and complexity of international destinations has provided an adventure than neither Lynne nor Tim could never have anticipated. And while a life of near constant traveling might have its ups and downs, they wouldn’t trade this new life for the world.

I’m not exactly the target audience for this book as it’s a sort-of instructional guide for retirees who want to live internationally on a budget. I’ll be in that demographic one day, but not for quite a while.

Home Sweet Anywhere encourages retirees to reconsider their options for living out their retirement. They don’t need to be satisfied with staying in one place if they have the urge to travel and see the world. It doesn’t hide that things may not always go smoothly during travel, and it reminds readers that the good days should be treasured. Lynne also makes sure to point out that travel may not be for everyone. It all depends on a person’s lifestyle and the things that their willing/able to sacrifice.

I think one of the reasons that I couldn’t connect with this book was I’m not in the targeted audience. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate on the adventures that Lynne and Tim Martin had while exploring the world, I struggled to connect with them. I couldn’t make myself ignore the feeling that I was listening to a grandmother sharing stories of what happened on her travels. Interesting enough but mainly fluff that I could tune out without missing anything.

When I picked up this book, I was hoping to see insight into what living abroad full time meant to them. I imagined learning how their new lifestyle tested their relationship and made them stronger. I wanted to see vulnerability in both Lynne and Tim. They must have had moments where they seriously questioned whether they made the right decision. Lynne instead glossed over the bigger emotions that she and Tim undoubtedly felt during their time abroad. And I think she did a disservice to the book and her readers because of that.

This book would be great for someone interested in living abroad full time and is looking for a light read.

Rating: 

Home Sweet Anywhere by Lynne Martin is published in paperback by Sourcebooks.

**I received an advanced copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.

This isn’t the book I wanted to read! (Or a day in the life of a frustrated reader)

How I feel more often than not when I’m reviewing a book

I read Dream Student late last year and was incredibly disappointed. The summary promised a thrilling mystery driven forward by the main character’s dreams. But the book meandered along through several genres, dropping then for others before picking them up later on in the story. I chose the book because of what it promised in the synopsis, and I ended up frustrated on each page when the book didn’t seem to be going anywhere with the plot I was promised. The summary can’t include everything without spoiling the ending, though it should match the plot.

Readers use the summary of a book in order to decide whether or not to buy. Occasionally they’ll read the first few pages to test the waters before committing. A few online sites, though, don’t have previews available ahead of time. For those potential readers, and those who don’t read the first few pages, they rely on the accuracy of the promise of the summary to make their decision.

There is little that turns me off a book more than finding out that it’s nothing like the summary. I usually read a stellar summary, start the book, and discover that what’s supposed to be the plot or genre is only a minor subplot. I end up reading a book that I don’t enjoy. One I probably wouldn’t have picked up to begin with.

Yes, the publisher (or the author in the case of a self-published book) may have gotten me to download/purchase the book because of the summary. That may be how they make sales on otherwise lackluster books.

The expense at which they got that sale is readership. When I’m burned like that, I won’t pick up a book from that author or publisher ever again. I don’t trust that the book I set out to read will actually be between the pages.

Have you ever read a book that was very different from the summary on the book jacket? Did you enjoy it? And will you ever buy anything from that author or publisher again?

Unsure, Nervous, and My Writing is Awful

Last night, I restarted my novel King’s Shadow. Two drafts are gathering dust on my hard drive: one from NaNoWriMo last November and the other an attempt at a restart this summer. Both were abandoned when I lost momentum. I couldn’t overcome the guilt I felt at writing when I thought that I should be doing more important things. Even the practice of setting aside one hour–a measly hour I would otherwise kill with television–to sit at the computer and write.

The first four hundred words were miserable. I hated them. The story didn’t make sense. It felt like the reader would have no idea what’s going on yet and wouldn’t feel connected to the setting or the characters. The narrator doesn’t have the strong voice I want from her. She’s too timid. Plus none of the writing was anywhere near the same level as published books. It would be a stretch to say that it was even in the same galaxy.

But then the gears in my brain began to turn, and I started to get caught up in the story. I could see the white hallway with amber stains marring the walls. I heard the pleasant, robotic voice urging the people in the palace complex to remain calm. I smelled the sweat, adrenaline, and fear of the characters as they hunted for an unknown intruder.

I hit just over eight hundred words, and I didn’t want to stop. The clock read 10:37, however. Past my bedtime since I had to get up to take Sampson out the next morning. So I reluctantly saved the file before shutting down the computer. Enthusiasm tends to spill over into the next session if I stop while I’m ahead.

This first draft isn’t meant to be read by anyone but me. So it doesn’t matter as much if the story doesn’t flow like it should. That can be fixed and smoothed out in revision. All I need to do now is keep writing and fall in love with the story each time I sit at my computer.

Have you ever been discouraged while working on your first draft? Did you overcome it? How?

Always Prepared

I’m not the kind of woman who carries around a purse by choice. I’d much rather stick my wallet and cell phone in the back pockets of my jeans and tuck my keys into my right front pocket. Maybe I’ll stuff a plastic “poop” bag into my other front pocket or drop change in with my keys, but that’s about it. I don’t carry around much else.

As a writer, I feel like I should carry around a bag big enough to hold a paperback book and a notebook. It’s almost a moral imperative. Always prepared for a quiet moment or for inspiration to strike. Kind of like a Boy Scout.

But I just don’t see the sense in it. The bag, that is.

I pick jeans over a skirt or a dress nine days out of ten. And those days I choose to wear a skirt, I often curse the fact that I don’t have any pockets. My quite rational fear is that I’ll drape my bag over the back of a chair or push it beneath a table and then walk away without it. I’m the type of person who completely forgets about things unless I can see some sort of reminder. That’s why I have dozens of Post-Its plastered across my desk at work. It might look a bit odd if I whip out a little packet of sticky notes and write a reminder while I’m out at a fancy dinner.

Plus, I’m not sure I’d actually read or write. My phone is too much of a distraction, and the Pintrest app will literally kill an hour without much effort. I know that it’s not contributing positively to my writing. There are so many cool dessert and DIY projects that I always go back for more.

Whenever I don’t have the option of carrying my wallet and phone in my pockets, I tuck a notebook into whatever bag I pull out of my closet. I’ll also put in a paperback novel if I think I’m going to be waiting for some time. Maybe I’ll even pull out the book rather than my phone when I’ve got time to kill.

At least I can say that I’m prepared in case the muse decides to pop awake and demand that I write while I’m waiting for an oil change.

Do you carry a notebook or a book with you? Do you prefer them to apps on your phone?

A Book of Lessons

The amount of writing advice books I own is kind of embarrassing. I won’t say the exact number, but let me just say that they fill most of two small bookcases. Some of them I’ve only cracked open to flip through the pages. Others, I’ve gone through each page and highlighted passages as I read.

One of those books that I highlighted a lot was literary agent Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, which happens to have a companion workbook. I’ve done a few of the exercises in the workbook, and I figured that I’d try out another one.

So, here goes nothing.

Adding Heroic Qualities

1. Who are your personal heroes? Write down the name of one.
It’s hard to choose. I could list fictional heroes for the rest of the day. Atticus Finch is one, and so is Sherlock Holmes. As for people in the real world, I’d have to say NASCAR star Mark Martin or writer Stephen King. But I have to chose one, so I’ll say Mark Martin.

2. What makes this person a hero or heroine to you? What is his or her greatest heroic quality? Write that down.
Mark Martin always  owns up to his mistakes. If he wrecks other cars, he apologizes and takes the blame. But he also races the other drivers like they race them. If they race dirty, then he will give it back just as good as he gets it. So his greatest heroic quality would have to be a tie between owning up to his mistakes and playing fair yet not being taken advantage of.

3. What was the moment in time in which you first became aware of this quality in your hero/heroine? Write that down.
I don’t remember the exact race I realized that Mark Martin owned up to his mistakes and played fair but wouldn’t let other drivers take advantage of him. It would have been during an interview after a wreck. He made a mistake, and he admitted it right into the microphone. He apologized to the other drivers involved. As for that he plays fair, I remember it was during a race when he was battling Kyle “Rowdy” Busch for the lead. Kyle banged  into Mark, and Mark banged right back. Then Mark raced another driver, Carl Edwards, cleanly a few races later when Carl raced him clean. Both instances were when Mark was in the middle of what he did best, racing.

4. Assign that quality to your protagonist. Find a way for he or she actively to demonstrate that quality, even in a small way, in his or her first scene. Make notes, starting now.

  • Julie realizes that she personally made a mistake in not going into a hotel room in order to confirm that there was plenty of blood for a particular, demanding vampire guest
  • She takes the blood up to the room and faces the angry vampire instead of putting the responsibility on one of her employees
  • She confronts an old, powerful vampire, threatening him with the repercussions from her family after he threatens her

That certainly got the creative juices flowing inside my head. I’m liking how Julie is starting to shape up, and I think I might have start plotting this novel after I finish the storyboard for King’s Shadow.

Do you have any writing exercises you particularly like? Do you have a go-to book of writing advice?

Review: Cindi Madsen’s “Act Like You Love Me”

Brynn MacAdams never expected to see her high school crush again, so she gets the shock of her life when he shows up to direct the play where she is one of the leads. She quickly realizes that Sawyer Raines doesn’t remember her at all, not even as the girl he rejected when she asked him to the high school prom. Since he didn’t like the real Brynn back then, she decides to be a different person now. One who’d have Sawyer eating out of the palm of her hand. But the line between real Brynn and fake Brynn begin to blur as she falls for Sawyer. Will she be able to come clean without breaking the heart of the man she’s come to love?

I wasn’t able to connect with Act Like You Love Me as much as I would have hoped. The plot and the characters seemed to rely too much on high school standards and drama for my tastes.

Brynn almost immediately began doubting her identity when her high school crush showed back up in their hometown. The social gap between the theater geek and the football star immediately takes over in her mind, putting this twenty-something right back into high school.

To give Sawyer credit, he lived in the present. His connection to high school had a much deeper meaning than Brynn’s, and I understood why he brought it up. But I still didn’t fall for him as I’d expect to in a romance novel. I couldn’t quite see why Brynn fell for him apart from her high school crush now being attainable.

All of that being said, I did like Brynn’s ploy of acting like a different person in order to attract Sawyer. It felt completely natural with her character; she was an actress and wanted to take advantage of Sawyer not remembering her. I also liked how she fell for him despite trying not to let herself. I think that’s something that a lot of women—myself included—would secretly like to experience. We’re just too afraid of the consequences.

I also enjoyed the way the pair met at the beginning of the book, Brynn’s quirks like owning kissing statues and working at a bait shop, and how the couple connected while working on sets at the theater.

Act Like You Love Me presents a contemporary romance set in North Carolina. It features the heroine trying to overcome her high school identity and a hero fighting against the sad memories that tie him to the state. There are quite a few sweet romantic moments that bring Brynn and Sawyer closer together. This book will be perfect to enjoy at the beach, by the pool, or while traveling.