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.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Monday Book Review: DIVINE FALL by Kathryn Knight

Divine Fall, by Kathryn Knight
Published August 2014 by Wildflower Books, a division of The Wild Rose Press

About the Book:
After tragedy tears Jamie Brandt’s life apart, her only goal is to finish high school so she can leave her small hometown behind. In the meantime, riding her horse is her main source of solace, until a mysterious stable hand shows up at the barn. There’s something not quite right about the handsome new employee, and the more Jamie sees of him, the more determined she becomes to figure out what he’s hiding.

Dothan Reed came to historic Huntsville, Maryland, for one reason—revenge. But his plan can’t move forward until he finds the missing piece he needs to enhance his powers. As the only surviving Nephilim, Dothan is not only weaker than full-blooded angels; his forbidden lineage makes him an outcast in both worlds. When he discovers Jamie is the key to locating an ancient weapon, he’s forced to interact with a vulnerable human girl—a task that becomes more appealing with each encounter.

Jamie soon learns Dothan isn’t the only one with a dark secret. Each new revelation further threatens her safety, and Dothan’s betrayal shatters her heart. Forgiving him seems impossible, but the thought of turning her back on him is equally painful.

As their connection deepens, Dothan will have to make his own difficult choice: continue on his path of vengeance, or protect the girl he loves. And when Dothan’s actions thrust Jamie into an unforeseen danger, he must seek the help of his enemy…or risk losing her forever.
My Take:
An engaging and suspenseful YA tale of an ordinary high school girl struggling with the recent death of a parent, and high school bullying. Things start to change when she discovers the boy she's falling for is part angel and bent on seeking revenge for the death of his father.

Told in first person POV, our narrator Jamie meets the cute boy by falling at his feet. Well, falling off her horse at least. He comes to her rescue and sparks fly. Literally. Dothan is the new stable boy at the farm where she boards her horse, and his touch sends electric shocks scurrying through Jamie. Quiet and mysterious, his every word and action peak Jamie's curiosity, made all the more intriguing by the fact that he knows nothing of her past. Her story unfolds in slow fits and starts, as does Dothan's mysterious past.

As the two slowly grow closer, the heat turns up in more ways than one. The past has a way of catching up with characters, and everything is not as it seems. I struggled a bit with some of the dialogue and the fact that Jamie seemed a bit mature in her thinking for a newly minted 17-year-old girl with raging hormones... but given the hardships she'd already faced, I figured she had to grow up rather quickly.

While many of the plot twists were predictable, this was a fun YA paranormal romp, and while the pacing was a little slow, it was a quick read nonetheless. If you like reading YA angels, this offers a slightly new take on the angel/nephilim world and its relation to our own mortal realm.

Grab it on AMAZON.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Writing Wednesday: What are our Kids Learning?

It's Spring Vacation in our area, so local area schools are shuttered for the week. Which means I'm not accomplishing a whole lot of writing (or "real" work, for that matter.) That doesn't mean my kids don't have homework and projects to finish.

In fact, one of my kids had a rather involved science project, making a model, a diagram and a written explanation. Ah ha, you're thinking, she's going to talk about high school writing projects.

Um, no.

Actually, I'm going to talk about making models, and how letting kids figure it out on their own helps them engage more of their creative skills as well as their oral communication skills (which will in turn help their written communication skills, but that's for another blog post.)

So the assignment was to create a model of a DNA molecule.

The students were explicitly forbidden from using a model kit, and told not to use Styrofoam balls. Extra points are being given for being creative, and thinking outside the box, although the models have to be sturdy enough to travel to and from school and be handled. They can lay flat, sit up or hang. Go.

I let my child figure it out. I asked them to go through our craft supplies to see if there was anything they could use, or to make a list for the craft store since we were going into town today. They got all excited about it yesterday afternoon when they came up with an idea, contingent upon me giving up part of an older brother's collection...
...of PEZ dispensers. What you see here are the ones left standing. Another thirty plus were sacrificed, losing their heads to the science gods...
Golf balls proved a bit heavy for the endeavor, but they came up with the idea of ping pong balls. Luckily, the local 7Eleven keeps them in stock for the bar across the street where they hold weekly beer pong tournaments. (No, I wish I were making that up.)

Add hot glue and we're good to go. Except when I say "We" I don't mean me. I didn't help, except to give my permission to use the PEZ dispensers. I didn't even express an opinion about the weight of the golf balls. I let it all get puzzled out naturally. I helped passively, by holding pieces while the glue dried, but I did not even touch the glue gun. Not once.

The result? A very cool model that my child is proud of. That they did all on their own. Thought through, worked out the kinks, solved the issues, found a ride to 7Eleven on own (I was working) and - most importantly - understands what each part of the model represents, including the color coding in a very specific order. So the write up should be easy, because they get it. They built it.

Some ask what the point of these kind of projects is. It looks like more fun than work. They should be busy learning vocabulary, practicing spelling, doing sheets of math problems, learning the order of the periodic table, learning to write cursive... and any host of other rote learning skills we learned as young teens.

But planning and problem solving are critical. Learning to think and solve complex problems on your own and in groups is ever more important in our complex world. We have computers that spell check for us, calculators that solve equations for us, and search engines to look up facts and dates. What students really need to learn is critical thinking. Open ended projects like this are invaluable to helping them push the boundaries of their creativity.

And making cool looking models is fun.

What do you think? If you were the superintendent, what would your priorities be?