Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Vacation Time!

I'm in Mexico all this week, recharging my battery or "filling the creative well," as Julia Cameron would say. It's kind of a work thing for my day job, but with plenty of free time added into the mix of meetings and mandatory events.

Plenty of time to go Mermaid hunting in the shops around Puerto Vallarta!

What even better for me is that I've been so busy with "work" lately that I ((gasp)) haven't felt like writing. I've been reading (of course) but writing? Not so much. I feel creatively drained, so even more important than ever to get refreshed and inspired.

What do you do to fill your creative well?

Monday, May 2, 2016

Monday Book Review: City of Thieves, by David Benioff

City of Thieves, by David Benioff
Published May 2008 by Viking Adult

About the Book:

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.

By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.
My Take:

Wow. One of my teens heard about this book from a friend, purchased and read it on his own, and then bugged and badgered and pleaded with me to read it next so we could talk about it and so we could share the experience. Like when one of my other sons came to me with tears in his eyes after finishing the Book Thief, begging me to read it right away.

I love when a book has such a profound affect on a person that they CAN'T WAIT to share it!

This is a book like that. In the beginning I assumed it was a YA book because of the age of the characters and the thinness of the paperback, but it really isn't. The author includes murder, death, starvation, violence, sex, cannibalism, torture, and dirty jokes, as well as other brutal realities of war.

It's a coming-of-age historical fiction set during World War II during the siege of Leningrad. But you could read all that in the blurb. What the blurb doesn't convey is the dirt and grit and brutality of daily life, nor does it fully describe the impossible quest the two main characters embark upon, or the close relationship that develops between the characters.

This is another in the vein of realistic portrayals of the horrible realities of war, and the glimpses of humanity, love and absurdity that peak through the darkness. I loved this book in the way I loved Skeletons at the Feast (1945 Poland) and Sandcastle Girls (World War I Turkey), both by Chris Bohjalian, though this was less lyrical and a lot more raw, but completely engaging nonetheless.

There is nothing sugar coated about this book, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Definitely a 5-star recommended read.

You can grab a copy on AMAZON, but for some reason the Kindle version is more expensive than the paperback, so you'd be better off finding it at your local bookstore. It's not a new release so plan to call ahead.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday Feature: One of my favorite scenes from MY KIND OF CRAZY, by Katie O'Sullivan

Today for my Friday Feature, I'm sharing one of my favorite scenes from MY KIND OF CRAZY. Who can resist a moonlit walk on the beach with two cute guys, even if one of them is furry and has puppy breath?

(Okay, maybe I should've named the book Must Love Dogs... but that was already taken.)


Midget strained against his leash in the darkness, pulling Kendall at a fast clip but she didn’t mind. The pace cooled her overheated skin and cleared her head. Jon walked beside her, giving her pointers on puppy training, a safe, neutral subject. Jon showed her how to give the leash a short, sharp tug to let the dog know to slow down. Midget glanced back at him in surprise, but
slowed his pace to a more even keel.

They soon left the warm glow of the streetlamps behind and headed down the empty beach. The rising moon gave off little light, letting the stars twinkle all the more brightly. It was low tide, but they stayed far enough up the beach so as not to worry about stray waves curling around their ankles in the darkness.

“I guess I have a lot to learn about training,” Kendall said. “I’ve never owned a dog before.”

“He’s still just a puppy.” Jon took her hand and gave it a squeeze. “He’s supposed to be a little headstrong, but you need to make sure he knows who’s alpha. Otherwise you’ll always have these clashes of will.”

She frowned. “Alpha? That sounds so primitive. Can’t I just be his friend? Won’t he listen to me because I’m the one who feeds him? After all, food seems to be his big motivator.” At the mention of “food,” Midget stopped short and whipped his head around, mouth spreading into a wide grin.

Jon knelt to ruffle the fur around the dog’s neck. “Even the word food is enough to make you smile, huh, boy?” The dog barked once and licked Jon’s cheek in obvious agreement. They wrestled in the sand more like a pair of small children than a grown man and a half-grown dog. Midget seemed to have practically doubled in size in the short time he’d been living with her. How was that possible? His name seemed more and more incongruous, and she shook her head at the irony. What were those people thinking when they named him?

Jon lay sprawled on the sand, Midget on top of his chest like a champion wrestler awaiting the buzzer. Kendall burst into laughter when he asked for help. “You’re the one who started it! You shouldn’t start something you can’t finish.” She reached for Midget’s leash and Jon grabbed her by the wrist, yanking her down next to him on the sand. She squealed as she fell, and in a flash Midget was at her side to make sure she was okay, panting and licking her face with his hot puppy breath. “I’m fine,” she managed to tell the dog in between licks.

Jon was laughing now too. He rolled toward her, so close she could feel the warmth radiating from his body, in contrast to the cold sand beneath her. Midget stopped licking her face and raised his head like he’d heard a noise. He bounded over to the sand dunes where he disappeared into the tall seagrass.

“Midget!” Kendall pushed up on her elbows, not sure whether she should follow the dog.

“He won’t go far.” Jon reached over to brush the loose hair away from her eyes. “He’s already pretty attached to you.”

“Like I said before, I’m the one who feeds him.” A shiver ran through her where Jon’s fingers brushed her skin. She eased back onto the sand, Jon’s face shadowed in the darkness and barely visible. Overhead, shining pinpricks of stars pierced the inky blackness.

His steady breath warmed her skin, and she wondered what it was she’d been afraid of earlier. Her pulse quickened in response to his closeness—he’d had this effect on her since that first time they met. Kissing him had only increased the effect. She needed to taste his mouth again, right now. Lifting her head slightly to meet his mouth, she parted his lips with her tongue and kissed him slowly and deliberately.

Her mouth tasted like wine and curry, salt and something else, something uniquely Kendall. Jon’s heart pounded as she pushed against his chest with one hand, rolling him flat onto his back as she took control, exploring his mouth with her tongue, pausing to nip at his lower lip.

His mind raced. Didn’t she just tell him she wasn’t ready for this? If this was her feeling not ready, he couldn’t imagine what “ready” would feel like. Because this felt good. Too damn good. His pants grew tighter with every nip of her teeth against his bottom lip.

Between the sparkle of the stars on the water, the slight breeze off the ocean, and the cool, soft sand under him, Jon knew the situation couldn’t be more perfect. And yet…

Reluctantly, he untangled his lips from hers. She moved to nibble on his earlobe instead. “Kendall.” His whisper sounded hoarse. “I thought you said…”

She groaned. “I know, I know. I said I wanted to take it slow.” Her voice trailed off as she giggled. “But then, we’re here…in the starlight…” She licked her lips and smiled. “It just seemed like the thing to do.”

Want more? Grab a copy on AMAZON and get ready for beach season!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Writing Wednesday: Review Do's and Don'ts, Back by Popular Demand

I blogged about this last fall, and it's still one of my most popular posts. I thought I'd repeat it today, since I'm swamped at work and have no time to blog. (and yet here I am...)

Let me say up front, though, that leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads is THE MOST IMPORTANT PART. It doesn't have to be review site quality. It doesn't have to follow the rules I lay out here (unless you have time and want to.)

You just need to let the author know you liked his or her book. Period. A few short sentences about why you liked it. Did you like the characters? The setting? The plot? The theme? The message? Let the author know what resonated with you. THAT is the most important thing about reviews. Saying to the author adn other readers, "Hey, I read this book a lot and here's why I think you might like it too."

For many people, the idea of writing a book review is a Daunting Task for professionals only, something akin to running a marathon. Or dusting. Other people think writing a review is EXACTLY like writing a book report, and have no qualms about adding spoilers that give away key plot points and basically ruin the story for whoever reads the review. One Blogger friend compared spoilers in reviews to movie trailers that give away all the best scenes.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

So what makes a good review, and how do you write one? Well, there’s no one “right” way to write a review, but there are some general guidelines, as well as a few “Don’t Do It” tips that I’d like to share.

What a Review Should Include: “The 5 Ws”

Reviews don’t have to be long or complicated, but they should give the reader a few basics as to who and what the book is about, and what’s different or unique about this author’s take on the subject. 

  • Who are the main characters? Tell us their names and something relevant or memorable about each – as they are introduced at the beginning of the book, not who they are at the end.
  • Where and When does the book take place? Is it a Regency romance novel, or science fiction set on Planet Xenon in the late 40th century? A cowboy mystery in West Texas at the turn of this century? Give us a few sentences to set the scene.
  • What is the main conflict? Usually the back-of-book blurb summarizes the plot, and it might be acceptable to use the author’s phrasing for the conflict if you agree with it – but don’t just regurgitate. Tell us in your own words.
  • Why? Why did you like (or not like) the book?  Why do we care about these characters and what happens to them? Why should we spend our money – and our time – reading this book instead of another?


* DON’T just repeat the back-of-book blurb and then say, “I liked it.” Boring! We can read the blurb for ourselves. WHY did you like it? WHAT made it interesting? Tell us!

* DON’T make the review solely a critique of the author’s writing style. Yes, style is important and warrants notice, but a review should be about the story and characters too. And, as an addendum to that…

* DON’T make the review a critique of the author as a person. Have you met the author and loved her? Hated him? Have you written a similar book that you think is much better? None of that is relevant to the review of this particular book.

* DON’T give away key plot points. If one of the key characters dies in a battle scene and the hero has to bring her back to life, DON’T tell us about it! Let us get to that scene in our own sweet time. If it’s a romance, we expect the Happily Ever After, but DON’T tell us which guy the heroine chooses – that ruins all the suspense! And as for mysteries – just DON’T. Giving away whodunit is a big no no.

* DON’T be boring. If the review sounds ho hum, how will it compel others to read the book? Again, focus on WHY you liked the story, the characters, the conflict, the writing…

Think of it this way: You’re having coffee with a friend and tell her you just read a great book. She says, “Tell me about it.” What would you say to explain WHY you loved the book?

Once you’ve answered the basic questions, you’re well on your way to writing a great review. Remember, what makes a review “great” is not the heaping of praise on the author, but helping other readers decide if they’ll enjoy the book.