Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Fave Four Reads of 2013

Everyone's doing there own lists so I decided, why not do one myself.  This started out as a Fave Five list, but there was a toss up between six different books for #5 haha, so I decided to go for the ones that COMPLETELY knocked my socks off.  

Here goes ...

What Hides Within by Jason Parent

This book has it all: sarcastic anti-hero (the kind you spend the whole book trying to figure out whether you want to hug him for being so real or punch him for the same reason), funny as hell doctors, annoying chick (that makes you thank God you're not THAT kind of gal), a roommate you're not so sure about, a mystery to solve and, yes, a spider - moments that make you laugh so hard you cry, creep you out beyond belief and a few where you stare at your Kindle (or whatever e-reader you use) and think "what the...?!?!"  And one of those endings that I love - that make you rethink everything you learned throughout the whole book.  Definitely a book you HAVE to read.  Not should - NEED.  :)

Grudge Punk by John McNee

I was super psyched to read this book and oh-my-God ... from the first page ... Not only did it introduce me to a new genre, but I will read anything this man writes.  It was THAT amazing.  His characters ... the city ... the way he writes and describes things ... the details he adds ... I don't even know what to say, but READ IT!! :)

Screamscapes: Tales of Terror by Evans Light 

This is a set of short stories (some longer than others) that are so good, I didn't want the book to end and have read every other short story he has produced.  They creep you out, make you think and end in ways you never expected.  If you have not read anything of Evans', you have got to start, right now, with this book.  When I picked this book up, I was pretty ticked off at "horror short stories" because some are just THAT bad, but he completely changed my mind about them.

Life After Dane by Edward Lorn

This book was really really good.  Sad, crazy, suspenseful, creepy - and a completely shocking and unexpected ending.  Plus I love the cover art.  He really has talent for making you believe in the "impossible" and has a real talent with words.

I look forward to reading some more from all four of these authors in 2014.  They are definitely authors to keep an eye on.

Goodbye 2013 ...

2013 - It's been swell ... but the swelling's gone down.

Anyone who knows me well knows that THAT is one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite crappy movies that no one seems to like but me (haha).  Well, minus the 2013 part - but it's so perfect.  

This has been one of THOSE years - I really can only name a few things that have been good that happened this year - mom and I are getting along better than we have in a long while, met some people who have become good friends, met this guy (yeah, a guy) who is pretty alright, read some good books and I started my blogs.  

And, as with every year before this one, I've been running around last minute trying to get a million things done to prepare for 2014 -and finally have most it done.

 Here's to 2014!!
 I  hope it is a wonderful year for all of us.

Have a fun and safe last day of 2013!!

I plan on staying in - watching fireworks on TV and from my front porch, watching a few British mysteries with mom, drinking a bit of wine and eating a whole lot of chips and queso.  Hope y'all have fun too!!  :)

Chrismas 2013

I know I know - I'm late on this one.  We'll blame it one of my famous blonde-ish moments :p

The plan was to include the pictures that I was going to take of the Christmas lights we went and saw - except I got so excited I forgot to take pictures haha.  I'm like a little kid when it comes to driving around looking at those - I get all excited.  I'm sure I've driven my mom crazy all these years, but it is still a tradition in our family.

I hope everyone had a great one ..........

My mother and I decided that the "big gift" this year was going to be a membership to the San Antonio Zoo that we could share.  That meant we would go small and simple on the rest of the gifts.  I made her a Christmas card (that's kinda my thing - making things - especially out of recycled stuff), bought her favorite candy - and loaded up her Kindle with a bunch of mysteries for her to read in her free time.

My mom picks the best goofy gifts - a tape dispenser shaped like a high heel?!?! - so bad, but it looks great on my desk and makes me giggle when I look at it (she giggled when I opened the bag).  I also got a wall calendar with cats - one cat is used twice and she reminds us of my lost Tempe - a beautiful glass bowl and CHOCOLATE!!  :)

Since it was just her and I, we decided to to completely non-traditional and make homemade pizza (like from scratch, not from a box or package).  It was fun - always was one of my favorite things to do for the holidays, cook with her.  And a bottle of wine since we couldn't agree on the kind of beer we wanted haha.

Before I got distracted with all the pretty lights and things - i.e. before it got dark - mom took me to a neighborhood where she sees one of her kids (she's a Pediatric Occupational Therapist that works home health) to show me these ducks she kept telling me were made out of a bush.  I thought she was crazy - or maybe she just wasn't explaining it right - or maybe I was only partly listening ... we'll never be completely sure.  

It.was.so.cool ............

Not just ducks.  Ducks, is that a seal?, a fox, a basket with gifts ... and reindeers.  Wow!!  Probably one of the coolest holiday-decorations-setups I've ever seen :)

A New Year's Gift!!

As a Happy New Year's gift - 
and to ring in 2014 in a super awesome way - 
my friend Chris (C Michael Powers) 
has decided that for FIVE DAYS ONLY,
 Mirror Images #1: The Darkness of Man 
will be FREE 
to all the lovely readers in this world who wish to give it a try. 

 (If I didn't already own it, I would totally be grabbing this offer.)

Wednesday, 1 January 2014
Sunday, 5 January 2014

Make sure to click the link tomorrow and give it a read!!
And keep your eyes out for #2.

Monday, December 30, 2013

REVIEW: Midrealm

Realm Keepers, Book 1
By Garrett Robinson & ZC Bolger

Genre: YA, fantasy
Publication date: 12.22.2013
Pages: 546

Date read: 12.30.2013
Recommended by: Read 2 Review

Summary: Between Earth and Chaos, Six Children Battle For Our Survival

This is the full first volume of the Realm Keepers series, including Episodes 1-6 and the epic Book One Finale.

What if you and your friends went to another world every time you went to sleep?  What if you spent half your life here, in our world, and the other half battling for mankind’s survival against foes too terrible to be real?  And what if you could never tell anyone?

This is reality for the Realm Keepers: six ordinary kids thrust into a terrifying war in a universe called Midrealm - a universe that’s the only thing standing between our world and Chaos. Plucked from their ordinary lives and given extraordinary powers, they’re the only thing standing between us and an endless war that’s raged for millennia.

My thoughts

I knew reading the book description on this that it was my kind of book, but after reading the author's introduction, there was no doubt in my mind. :)

This book is great.

It is very rare that I read a book and just can't think of what to say about it.  Like, there's so much I want to say, but every time I write something I think it will give away too much.

I love the sarcasm and the fact that the teenagers, though given a "tough job" to do, are still teenagers, not quickly growing up, but instead slowly learning and even messing up while learning to work with their "skills" and work together.  I also like that each of them has their own skill to utilize and that each one is so different from the other.

I like that each part of the book is through the eyes of a different character and begin as a journal entry telling different parts of their tale - it allows you to learn more about he character then you would if it had been done third person or with only one person telling the story.  Being that it was a "journal-espque" entry, you learn more thoughts and feelings than they would have shared in a conversation with someone.

Chaos and the "bad guys" are really cool and the way the authors describe them is powerful.

Favorite character: My favorite character, by far, was Greystone.  His sarcasm and the way that he interacts with the children, the look described on his face, the fact that he's often thought to be saying a little prayer under his breath, just makes him, well, awesome.

Favorite line: There cannot be just one line in this book.  There are even more than what I will share now.  And most of them is out of the mouth of Greystone.

"Greystone looked like he was reciting some sort of very private and very urgent prayer for patience as he waited for us all to stop talking again."

"I have decided that I will be ignoring this one."

"'Did you already try casting spells at it?  Fire or earth or something?'
'No, I yelled at it to go away,' he said sarcastically.
'How about water?'
'Of course!  Dousing him wiht water will make him wet and angry!  Brilliant!'"

"'It's just me, not 'people.'  And I'm, like, a level two elementalist at best.  I'm a padawan, dude!'
'I don't understand what you're saying, and it makes me want to set you on fire,' said Greystone through gritted teeth.
'You always want to set people on fire!' I retorted."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Readers' Bill of Rights

1. The right to not read.
2. The right to skip pages.
3. The right to not finish.
4. The right to reread.
5. The right to read anything.
6. The right to escapism.
7. The right to read anywhere.
8. The right to browse.
9. The right to read out loud.
10. The right to not defend your tastes.

~Daniel Pennac 
As read on Princess Eva Rose's BookLikes blog

REVIEW: Santa Claus in Oz

New Adventures in Oz:
Santa Claus in Oz
By: Richard Capwell

Genre: Fantasy, Magic, Christmas
Publication date: 7.2.2012
Pages: 149

Date read: 12.26.2013

Summary: Santa Claus arrives in the Emerald City, but he's in trouble and needs help. Eight-year-old Button-Bright joins Santa on a secret mission throughout Oz, encountering magic, mystery and danger at every stop. Meanwhile, the little Wizard and his apprentice, beautiful Iliana, delve into the dark history of the Land of Oz. Fully illustrated by the author.

My thoughts

One of my favorite movies of all time is the Wizard of Oz.  It could even be called an obsession.  I've seen the movie so many times that I can tell you what they will say before they say it, have read L Frank Baum's series several times and will read anything having to do with Oz.  Adding Santa Claus to the mix just makes it that.much.better - and I knew I had to read this story.

Santa's sick and needs help so, of course, he comes to the Emerald City to get that help.  I got that far into the book and was SURE that I would hate it, assuming that it would be based around either Dorothy or Ozma - there are SO many amazing characters in this series, but none of them really get utilized as much as I would like them to be.  Button-Bright (one such character) is hiding in a closet and overhears Santa telling Ozma and Oscar (the Wizard) what is happening to him.  Because of this, Santa decides to ask him to come with him and help him get to the bottom of things.  While they're out investigating, Oscar and Iliana (Oscar's apprentice, an ex-moon fairy) go off to investigate some things as well.

This story has everything - magic, mystery, unexpected secrets, hidden keys, a forbidden fountain that makes you forget everything, disappearing reindeer, tinker toys (and a robot that looks like it could be Tik Tok's twin), wicked witches, trap doors, a huge dragon ... and so much more.  Button-Bright ends up being unexpectedly brave and a huge help to save Santa.

A fun adventure that I loved and recommend to everyone who has ever enjoyed that movie.

Favorite characters: Yong (the dragon), Button-Bright and Santa, though I enjoyed learning more about all the characters that were included in this story.

Favorite lines:
"'The fairies spun the thread from imagination,' said Iliana.  'Laughter, joy, wonderment - in short, faith.'"

"'No peanut butter!  That's unacceptable.'" <- I completely agree Santa!! :)

"'What keeps your fire burning?' asked the boy.  'I am filled with the Spark of Imagination,' replied Yong.  'Aren't you afraid of it going out?'  'The world is full of dreamers.'"

"'Your appearance does not matter,' he said.  'Even if you were the ugliest creature in the world, if your actions were good and kind, I might love you.  But you are wicked and unrepentant, and therefore, I will never see you as anything but repulsive.'"

REVIEW: A Christmas Peril

Bit Parts: A Christmas Peril
By: Michelle Scott

Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy, Christmas
Publication date: 11.7.2013
Pages: 54

Date read: 12.24.2013
Recommended by: Won on BookLikes

Summary: Cassandra Jaber hadn’t planned on spending the holidays with a bunch of vampires who are all intent on stealing her soul. But when she gets a party invitation she can’t refuse, she realizes that vamps aren’t the only things she needs to beware of. (This novella is based on the books in the Bit Part series.)

My thoughts

I may not have thought this through enough before reading this story.  Ya see, I have won a couple of books over on BookLikes and I plan to start reading them January 2014.  I was so excited that this was a Christmas one - that I read it ... without reading Stage Fright first.  Because of this, I only know bits and pieces of the backstory.  Stage Fright is now on my Wish List and I plan to read it soon.

Now, on to A Christmas Peril.  This Cassandra chick is, apparently, a vampire hunter - and so is her date to this Christmas party.  There's just one problem - it is a Christmas party for vampires.  Yes, that means that her and her date are not only vampire hunters, but will be the only non-vampires at the party.  Ok - seems interesting.  This is what caused me to try and win the book in the first place.

From the very beginning of the story, I'm not a fan of Cassandra.  Now, maybe I would be if I knew everything she went through in the previous book, but it just seems like a bad idea to come "packing" to a Christmas party, I don't care who's going to be there.  It just sounds like you're bringing trouble and when you bring trouble, well, trouble follows.  So, as you've guessed, things happen that lead to trouble, and then more trouble, and then more trouble.  Now, good comes from the trouble and the twist was unexpected, but it just seemed, I don't know, forced ... or maybe it's because this had the potential of being a longer novella or even a novel and didn't live up to what I expected.

I'm giving it a 3 1/2 because I felt it could have been better, with or without me knowing the backstory.

These are my thoughts NOW, but after I read Stage Fright, I'll give this novella another chance.

Favorite character: Andrew, Cassandra's roommate - he just seems fun.

Favorite line: "When the doorbell rang, Andrew went to answer it, and I went for my hidden stash of weapons.  Okay, the bridesmaid's dress had been a bad idea, but I still needed to conceal a weapon or two.  I shoved one of the stakes down my cleavage, and hastily tied the other to my thigh.  Since I wasn't carrying a purse, the tiny canister of holy water got tucked into the sash behind the rhinestone pin."

REVIEW: Christmas Shopping

Christmas Shopping
By: Angel Gelique

Genre: Christmas, Horror
Publication date: 12.16.2013
Pages: 26

Date read: 12.24.2013

Summary: A tale of Christmas mayhem...

All Jilly Carson wanted to do was get a little Christmas shopping done with her best friend, Peyton. But when Peyton can’t meet her at the mall, Jilly finds herself feeling anxious and alone as her mother’s cautionary words echo in her head:

“Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t put yourself in that position again. You remember what happened last time....”

When a tall, blonde-haired stranger begins to stalk her, Jilly does everything she can to avoid him.
Feeling scared and vulnerable, she finally decides to leave the mall. But the blonde-haired man won’t let her flee quite so easily….

My thoughts

Christmas and Horror - two things I love, why not combine them, huh?  Yeah ... not so much on this one.  More creepy older blonde guy that shouldn't be following a teenager throughout the mall ... less scared the willies out of me.  The twist, though I was expecting something, wasn't what I expected and I give it that, but on the whole "horror" scare factor thing, yeah, um ... I really wasn't feeling any ounce of scared.  I kept wondering where mall security was actually.  Just odd.

REVIEW: The Jesus Tree

The Jesus Tree
By: Carey Thomas
Illustrations by: Katie Kelly

Genre: Christmas, Children
Publication date: 12.6.2013
Pages: 26

Date read: 12.25.2013

Summary: Mackenzie and Ben are two typical kids caught up in the glimmer of the Christmas Season until they are asked to help an elderly woman decorate her "Jesus Tree." While reluctant to help at first, their change of heart begins as the woman purposefully decorates her tree with docorations that remind her of Jesus. Each decoration tells the story of Jesus in a way that breathes new life into the meaning of Christmas. While admiring the humble tree, the old woman surprises Mackenzie and Ben with a Christmas gift they will never forget.

My thoughts

Usually at Christmas time I have a group of kids that I'm babysitting and we sit down on Christmas Eve (while their parents are working or doing some last minute shopping) and read Christmas stories, eat sweets, drink hot cocoa and watch a Christmas movie.  This year, sadly, I didn't have anyone to watch - but that wasn't stopping me from reading a few stories, but I did decide to wait until Christmas Day.  I just happened to find this one for free and thought, why not?!?!  From now on, I'm always going with my "why not?!?!" feelings.

This was such a cute book.  I loved the drawings that were done by Katie Kelly - they were simple and, though not in color on my Kindle Paperwhite, still beautiful.  The story itself gave me goosebumps.  I had heard about the Jesus tree before, but "watching" as this lady introduced each new thing for the tree to two children, explaining how these things made her think of him - two children who were unwillingly helping her - was such a beautiful thing, especially when you could see how their attitudes started to change.  My favorite part was the end, when they put the gifts under the tree.  I wasn't expecting what happened.  Definitely a good book for those trying to teach the meaning of Christmas to young children - or for those of y'all who are still children at heart.

REVIEW: 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2

1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More
By: Bryan Cohen and Jeremiah Jones

Genre: Writing, How-To
Publication date: 11.2.2013
Pages: 107

Date read: 12.28.2013
Recommended by: Read 2 Review

Summary: Creative writing prompts are short questions or situations that are meant to inspire you to write. Far beyond the typical, “It was a dark and stormy night…” story starters, this new collection of 1,000 prompts has been specifically formulated to dig deep into the creative process. The prompts employ thought-provoking questions, imaginative scenarios and humor to help writers of all ages defeat writer’s block. Author Bryan Cohen’s previous books of writing prompts have sold more than 20,000 copies and include multiple Amazon best-sellers. Through his books and his website Build Creative Writing Ideas, Cohen has helped countless writers, teachers and students to blast through the blank page and the blinking cursor to create blogs, scripts, stories and more! It’s time to stop thinking and start writing. Get this book on your physical or digital shelf today.

My thoughts

Several years ago, while working with school-age children in an after-school program, I was given the task of coming up with new activities for the summer program - this was after weeks of looking at all the things that had been done before by other teachers which, in my opinion, treated the kids like they were a lot younger (and not as intelligent) as they really were - and were also things that were just not cool enough for me to do (haha).  I remembered the fun that I had with an after-school program when I was younger and decided to take some of those ideas and use them with my class.  One of them was writing - something I have always loved to do.  I purchased each child a spiral notebook so they could keep a summer journal and started researching subjects for them to write on.  Some of them were really good (I have a list that I still utilize today).  Others were absolutely horrible. Throughout the years since I have been able to get other children into writing and each time I use the internet to research more "journal prompt" ideas.  If any of you have done this, then you know just how trying a task this is - so many people just cut and paste what the website before them have suggested, some of them really put no thought into what they've written, etc.

I'm sure you're wondering what the point of my story is.

This is a book full of journal prompts.  A thousand of them to be exact.

It starts off with a very well-written and inspiring introduction, one which you shouldn't miss - which leads into the lists, separated into topics and sub-topics, of open-ended questions.  Some are familiar to things I've seen, but not quite.  Others are ones I wouldn't have thought of and haven't seen before.  Some ask you to write a short story, some are just questions to answer - but all make you think. 

I wish I had this book all those years ago - I could have let them look at an even longer list to see what they chose and what they wrote.  In fact, I caught myself highlighting several things and since finishing the book I've found myself drifting off into my own little world and answering those questions.  Some of them just weren't for me, but others really made me think.  And what I liked is that these things can be used for a variety of things, not just ideas for a novel.  Some of them would work really well for a blog post or even private writings in your journal.

Favorite line: "Creativity is a wonderful  human ability and it should never be suppressed!"

REVIEW: All I Know

All I Know: A Collection of Quotes on Life, Love, Sadness and Other topics
By: Ashly Lorenzana

Genre: Quotes
Publication date: 12.22.2013
Pages: 72

Date read: 12.27.2013
Recommended by: Read 2 Review

Summary: Ashly Lorenzana is a freelance writer, blogger and published author. She has worked as an escort for over five years, and has been a drug addict even longer than that. Several years ago, she started writing a list. The original title was simply, "The Things I Believe," and the title pretty much says it all. Since then, the list has grown and so has the expression used to convey each of her observations and discoveries about all areas of life.

Today, Lorenzana's quotes are shared countless times on social media sites and have appeared all over the web. People from all walks of life have found special meaning in her words and the little messages she has sent out into the world. All I Know is a thoughtful collection of quotes to make life appear more worth living, even while looking at it through the darkest lens known to mankind.

My thoughts

I love books of quotes, whether an accumulation of famous people's thoughts or, like this, the author's own - you can always find something that stands out or speaks to you.  Some of these really made me think. 

I do wish there had been more of an explanation behind the words in this book, an explanation of what lead her to write this book other than what is written in the book description on Amazon.  An introduction into herself, her history and her background would have pulled the book together, giving a lead in instead of immediately starting with quotes.

Favorite quote: "Love is imperfect.  Falling for someone's flaws is just as necessary as falling for their strengths."

REVIEW: Ten Commandments for the Thriving Writer

Ten Commandments for the Thriving Writer: Enjoying and Embracing the Freelance Writing Life
By: Karen Banes

Genre: Writing, How-To
Publication date: 12.8.2013
Pages: 46

Date read: 12.28.2013
Recommended by: Read 2 Review

Summary: This freelance writing guide is your ten-step guide to enjoying and embracing the freelance writing life, whether you're relatively new to freelance writing or already building an impressive portfolio of published writing.

If you want to move forward with your freelance writing business while writing about what you love, publishing on your own terms and working smarter not harder, this is the freelance writing guide for you.

By the time you finish this short book you'll be full of ideas about how to:

Make money writing about what you love
Publish your writing on your own terms
Focus on the work you love doing, and outsource what you don't enjoy
Promote your writing with class and integrity - and have fun doing it
Network and collaborate with people you actually like
Build a body of work you can be proud of
Keep your freelance writing (and the rest of your life) simple
Work less hours than most people (but more than Tim Ferriss - if you really love your work, you don't need a four hour work week)
Keep learning, growing and developing as your freelance writing career progresses
Lead a balanced life, and find time for fun and relaxation 

My thoughts

This book is full of a lot of great advice, not just for freelance writing.  Some of it I've heard before, but the way she puts it all together is very helpful and encouraging.  I think anyone who is writing - whether it just be a personal blog or writing a novel, whether you haven't finished your first draft or have published several books - should give these few pages a read through.  Advice is advice and you never know what you'll learn from someone who has gone through it all before.

REVIEW: Armored Hearts

Armored Hearts 1:
Armored Hearts
By: Pauline Creeden & Melissa Turner Lee

Genre: Steampunk, fantasy
Publication date: 11.26.2013
Pages: 268

Date read: 12.27.2013
Recommended by: Read 2 Review

Summary: When a crippled young lord rescues a girl falling from a tree, it reveals a secret about himself and his mother's side of the family that could put him at the center of a war with beings he thought only existed in fairy tales.

Tristan Gareth Smyth lived his entire life stuck at home at Waverly Park and left behind while his Grandfather makes trips to London, all because of his blasted wheelchair.

Then an American heiress falls in his lap, literally, and he must find a way to keep her at a distance to protect not only his secret, but everyone around him from an assassin sent to kill him.

My thoughts

I am a huge fan of steampunk and fantasy, so when it says that the story is both, I can't possibly say no.  And I'm glad that I didn't. 

This book is great from the beginning to end, well from the moment at the tree till the end (it's a little slow starting out, but I've been told that a little slow most always leads up to awesome ends).  It was so good, I had a hard time putting it down, you know, so I could sleep and stuff (:p), so good that I can't wait for book number two so that I can find out what happens.  Definitely a beyond fun book to read and one that I think everyone should give a try - especially if you are one that ... believes.

Favorite characters: Jessamine was one that I liked from the very beginning, though I couldn't place why I did - then, once you find out why, it's an ah-ha moment.  I also like Tabitha.  She's so good to Gareth (who is her nephew, but also younger than him), doesn't see his chair when she looks at him, plus is intelligent and witty and just fun to read about.  Gareth reminds me a lot of someone I know.

Favorite line: "I knew your surely attitude was like this armor, something to keep people from knowing who you really are.  Protection from getting hurt.  Only you don't need either with me."  

REVIEW: Santa Murders

Jim Richard Murder Novels #31:
Santa Murders
By: Bob Moats

Genre: Mystery, Christmas
Publication date: 10.31.2013
Pages: 181

Date read: 12.25.2013
Recommended by: Read 2 Review

Summary: That Jolly old head elf from the North Pole is getting ready to be a naughty boy. He has murder on his mind. Luckily it's not the real Santa Claus, but a person with a motive to murder. Las Vegas Homicide Detective Deacon DeAngelo goes after a street preacher who loves to play Santa for the homeless shelters. Evidence ties this Santa to the murder of a mob figure and now Will Trapper is called on to prove his Santa friend didn't do it. Trapper manages to talk Jim Richards into helping to find the real killer while they hide the fake Santa which doesn't make Deacon happy. He threatens them to find the real killer or go to jail for obstruction of justice. It's like the twelve days of Christmas around the preacher's church with police, mob figures, a fortune in hidden money and one scheming black widow female who traps the Santa into marriage to get at his wealth since he owns a choice property that every one wants for building casinos on. It's a Vegas Christmas in this 31st book of the Jim Richards series.

My thoughts

This is the 31st book in the series, but the first one I have read.  When it comes to r2r books, I want ones that I will enjoy - a mystery at Christmas time?!?!  This was one that I just could not pass up.  Especially when you find out that a good guy, though not always a smart guy, who dresses up as Santa, helps the homeless and is a preacher to boot is being set up for murdering a mob boss.  This had fun written all over it. 

As with all mysteries, I jumped in from the very beginning and immediately became immersed in their world and the case they were trying to solve.  Having not read the first thirty books of the series, I was unfamiliar with some of the relationships (I actually have bought others of the series on previous occasions and look forward to going back and reading them to learn more about these people and how they got together) but it did not stop me from enjoying the book and I actually caught on to things pretty quick.

It was a fun book with the typical twists and turns of a mystery novel, one of the things that I love so much about this genre.  The characters were fun, but some seemed kind of 2-dimensional, but this could have been because of my lack of knowledge on them as individuals (another reason that I need to go back and read some of the beginning ones).

There was only one problem that I had with this book, one thing that made it a 4 instead of a 5, and that was the first person story telling.  I'm not really a fan, though I have read books where they did it beautifully.  This, however, was a little jarring - sometimes he knows things he can't possibly know and sometimes he repeats things that someone just said, which makes reading the story a little tedious.  I would still recommend it to anyone who loves mysteries, though, because it was definitely a book I enjoyed.

Favorite character: I liked Jim.  He's a great PI and I like the relationship he has with his wife and with his "family" of investigators.  He's got a homeless man that he helped get off the streets (and an idea to help other homeless people do the same), a group of people he works with and a dog.  It makes the whole story seem more homey and personal.  I also liked Harold, even though there were a few times I wanted to just walk up and shake him, yell at him - but I'm sure that the author wanted this feeling when he wrote him.

Favorite line: "'If any creatures jump out, stop them.'  I knew he was referring to the Narnia books about the magic wardrobe."

Between the Bindings with MJ Webb

I met Martin several months ago on Goodreads.  He was looking for reviewers for his books (The Jake West Trilogy: 1: The Keeper of the Stones2: Warriors of the Heynai and 3: The Estian Alliance) and they sounded right up my ally.  I'm now glad to call him a friend - one of those that you learn a lot from, enjoy talking to and sometimes just want to beat the crap out of (not usually at the same time haha).

When I decided to do this whole authors-giving-advice thing, he was one of the firsts on my list and I'm glad that he decided to accept my offer.

What advice do I have?

First of all let me say that I am honoured to be asked to contribute to your wonderful blog and to find myself in such wonderful company.

I began writing because I wanted to do something for my children; it was as simple as that.  I had no idea if I was any good at it and I was armed only with the vaguest of concepts, as well as the world's worst stubborn streak.  I'm a big child really and just don't like being told that I can't do something ... And many, many people said exactly that.  I was told that I was embarking upon an impossible mission, that I should pen a few short stories before I launched into an epic fantasy novel.

Sorry, but that was the wrong thing to say to me and a red rag to a bull.  So, once I'd decided that "I'd show 'em," the rest was sort of easy.

The most important thing is to ensure that you have a really good story that people will want to read.  I thought I had that so I ploughed onwards, full of enthusiasm and hope.  I made a very loose storyboard which outlined about five chapters at a time and developed the characters which would inhabit my real and fantasy worlds.  Some were easy and they were based on real people: Jack West was my son, Jack, for instance (they share initials) and Princess Zephany was my daughter, Sophie.  Others took a bit more thought but I tried to picture them as if I was watching the movie in front of me, and everything came to me fairly easily after that.

To be honest, I rushed the whole process, as my work and family commitments meant that I had very little spare time.  I began writing almost immediately and soon learnt that, although the storyboard gave me a loose idea of where I was heading, I would invariably ignore it and set out on a different tangent.  Which brings me to my first point, and this for me is the greatest advice: go where the mood takes you.  Don't be too rigid and be prepared to fully explore your own imagination.  I was thrilled and amazed by the ideas that flowed, some of which I can't tell you to this day where they came from.  Sure, it gave me a few headaches for the final book of my trilogy, having to piece it all together and tie up every loose end, but it was a hell of a ride and so much more enjoyable for my lack of inhibitions.

There were obviously days when I did no know what to write (writer's block).  My advice there is to do what I did: sit yourself down and write anything.  The first few pages might be utter rubbish but you can throw those away or edit until your heart's content.  You'll enter the zone at some point, like I did, and that's when you produce your best work.  Don't get too hung up on the mechanics of the whole process, just enjoy it.  If you do, it will surely show in the end product.

Consistency is very important.  Your characters have to be believable and react or talk more or less as you'd expect them to in every situation.  I had difficulty there as some of my characters are fighting inner battles of enormous consequences, which breeds inconsistency, and some are still in their teens, still finding themselves; a point which thankfully most readers/reviewers have picked up on.

I think it's important to read other author's work and look at their styles, as you can learn a lot about what works and what doesn't.  It's also vital that you try to edit your work to the highest possible standard, to produce the best book you can before it is shown to anyone other than family/friends/proofreaders/editors, etc.  You only get one shot at most people, including any Literary Agents or Publishers.  If I'm completely honest, I think that's where I went wrong.  I submitted too early.  It would not have made much difference because I could not afford a professional edit but you never know, eh?

If you have a finished product which is ready for publication please be wary of the thousands of sharks who will promise you the world and quite cheerfully take your money.  You can publish for free on sites such as Lulu.com or Createspace if you want hard copies and there are plenty of sites for e-books, so don't be tempted to part with any cash unless you know what you're getting.  The same goes for cover art.  I used a local student who charged me nothing, though I later paid her of my own volition.

How to handle rejection or bad reviews?  They're part of a writer's lot I'm afraid.  Even the greatest of authors receive bad press.  Numerous Literary Agents and Publishers rejected JK Rowling's first novel, so you're in good company.  There are those out there who will give you bad reviews just for the hell of it, but thankfully these are few and most people give a genuine appraisal of your work.  It's their opinion and they are welcome to express it having taken the time to read your novel.  Take any constructive criticism on board and try to learn from it.  Never contact a reviewer.  Even if you have the best of intentions this can easily go south.  Just be thankful that the review has generated more publicity and interest in your book/s.  There will be peaks and troughs, highs and lows, it's the name of the game.

To sum up, if you're writing to make money or to become famous/receive adulation, you're setting yourself up for a fall.  However, if you have the right attitude and can deal with success equally as well as failure, my advice is to go for it!  I've had a wonderful four years or so since writing my books, I really have.  I've been on several radio stations, appeared in numerous newspapers, given book talks/conducted signings ... It's been a blast.  I've learnt so much about myself and others, and I think the whole experience has brought me even closer to my family, if that were possible.  I'm able to read my books with my children now and the thought that somebody somewhere will be opening my book/s as presents on Christmas Day is awesome, truly mind-boggling.  I've also had people get in touch on Facebook, etc because of the books, many of whom I  haven't seen for twenty years.  I have renewed lots of old friendships.  Every single review I receive still gives me goosebumps.  I just love it and I'm so grateful.  Reading this back, I think I'm a walking cliche but it's all true, I swear.

Above all, I'd say to any would-be authors that you have to remember there's a whole world of support out there for you if you just reach out and ask.  The internet has brought the experts right into your living room.  I remember Gail Z Martin helping me when I first began.

So, wright away, right now!  Write simply because you love to write ... And the very best of luck to you.

Thank you for that advice, Martin.  Very helpful.  The bit about the characters, especially - one of the things I commented on while reading your trilogy was the confusion between the people from this land and the other land, each not understanding even little things like communication, words, slang.  Some people forget about those little things that make it seem more real.  It was nice to see your characters explaining themselves.

I have more advice from more authors coming over the next few months so until next time ...  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Disgruntled Blogger User

The day before yesterday, while I was enjoying my wonderful Christmas Eve, I sat down to write a blog about Christmas.  After doing so, I decided to scroll through my blog and take a look at how it looked as a while, trying to see if there were any things that I needed to change about it for the new year.

Boy was I miffed.

See, several days ago I found out that this whole Google thing is taking my pictures from my blog and sticking them on albums on my Google+.  (I found this out when it decided to take one of my elephant pictures from the zoo, move it over to an album and add snow.  Snow.  On a picture that had nothing to do with snow.  Though I do think it's cool that it makes the Christmas lights on other pictures twinkle, but that's only over there in these random albums and not somewhere where it will actually be enjoyed.)  Not infuriating, but definitely annoying.  Especially since I haven't figured out how to change albums and make new ones over there - and I don't really think that book covers should be in an album anyways.

So, I deleted them from the album, figuring it won't be a big deal since it's in an album.

Oh it was a big deal - which has lead to my miffed statement from earlier.

You see, now those pictures are gone - not just from the album, but from the blog post.  Really?!?!  REALLY?!?!  *said in my best Miz impersonation*  

My blog looks awful now and I have to take the time to GO BACK and re-download those book covers - and anything else that I may have deleted without thinking that removing it from an album WOULD REMOVE IT FROM MY BLOG POSTS PEOPLE - and if I can't remember what I had there, I guess I'll be deleting blog posts.

What is wrong with these websites these days?!?!  They are so busy making it social that all they do is annoy the users.  If I want pictures in an album, I'll put them there myself.  If I want to remove them from said album, I shouldn't be penalized by having them removed from blog posts - if I wanted them removed from the blog posts, I would go do that myself.

So thank you, Blogger and Google+ and whoever else this involves - for giving me one more thing that I need to get done today.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Holiday traditions

Last week I had a very interesting conversation with a friend of mine about how we spend the holidays and the traditions we remember when we were younger and it really got me thinking.  

Things have changed a lot since I was little, but some things have definitely stayed the same.

When I was younger, I loved Christmas time (still do).  

My sister and I would have watched Christmas movies and listened to Christmas music all year if we had been allowed.  It got so bad that eventually mom made a rule - no Christmas anything until after Santa Claus came in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  (That rule is still in place haha.)

I loved that parade - and still watch it to this day, whether anyone watches it with me or not.  (And not just cause of that rule haha.)

Midnight mass was one of my favorite things.  Well, all of Christmas Eve really.  We would go out and look at Christmas lights, sometimes stop and get ice cream at Dairy Queen - and the church was always so beautiful - all the colors and decorations.  When we got home, we would get to open one gift before bed - and it was always pajamas (still is) - a tradition that we continued with my nieces.

I loved decorating the Christmas tree too.  All the old ornaments that had memories, plus the new ones that we added every year.  And the ones that we made were always neat too.  Every year mom would buy a sample box of chocolates and we'd share them as we decorated.  It was fun for all.

Helping mom with Christmas dinner was always so much fun for me.  Definitely something I looked forward too.

I loved getting gifts - all kids do - but my favorite thing was the Christmas cards that I got from my Grandparents (with or without the cash enclosed) and the fact that we would get oranges and apples in our stockings.   

By the time the THINGS came along, we as a family had started to grow apart in some ways and things just weren't the same.  I was the only one who was interested in a lot of the traditions that I had grown up loving and my nieces were my chance to start them up again.

Christmas stories, Christmas crafts, decorating the house, making our own Advent wreath ... it was always so much fun.  Even midnight mass and going to look at lights was something that the three of us enjoyed, though I just couldn't get them to sit there through the whole parade haha (Kids these days.  So desensitized .... well, you all know what the Grinch says. :p)

It went from getting excited to see what Santa would bring me to having loads of fun shopping for them, sneaking the gifts under the tree to see their faces on Christmas morning.  And instead of me helping mom make dinner - now it was them helping me.

And now - I think I'm just as much a kid now as I was then in some ways.  I still love Christmas.  I decorated the house and am still enjoying all of the lights.

This year it's just mom and I.  And how am I spending my day?  Well, we made breakfast together (cinnamon raisin french toast with syrup and whipped cream, sliced pears and mom had bacon) - and will be making dinner together later (homemade pizza - from scratch, not out of a box or with a mix).  We went to midnight mass last night, will be going to see Christmas lights tonight - I've already watched the Disney Christmas Parade and I'm watching Scrooged and other Christmas movies while laying on the couch and enjoying the day.

Mom and I decided that we weren't going all out for gifts this year - I surprised her with her favorite candy, a homemade card and got her several mysteries for her Kindle.  She bought me a beautiful bowl that she filled with candy, a tape dispenser shaped like a high heel (horrible, but I love my mom's horrible gifts haha - it's already on my desk) and a wall calendar with cats on it (to make me smile after losing Tempe a few weeks ago).  As always, it's from my mom and it's the best.  

I guess the best gift of all this year is her and I being together - and that her and I are finally in a good place.  Also all the friends I have made this year - some of them are very dear to me (they know who they are and they know how I feel about them).

So, I've said it before and I'll say it again ...

Nollaig shona dhuit
Frohliche weihnachten
Feliz navidad ...
Merry Christmas!!

What are some of the traditions you guys love?