Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Book Review: Bossypants by Tina Fey

My rating: 4.25/5

From the back of the book:

"Once in a generation a woman comes along who changes everything. Tina Fey is not that woman, but she met that woman once and acted weird around her.


"'You'd be really pretty if you lost weight.'(College Boyfriend, 1990 )

"'Tina Fey is an ugly, pear-shaped, overrated troll.' (The Internet )

"'Mommy, where are my pretzels?' (Tracy Morgan )


"'I hope that's not really the cover. That's really going to hurt sales.' (Don Fey, Father of Tina Fey )

"'Absolutely delicious!' (A Guy Who Eats Books )

"'Totally worth it.' (Trees )

"'Do not print this glowing recommendation of Tina Fey's book until I've been dead a hundred years.' (Mark Twain )

"'Hilarious and insightful. Laugh-out-loud funny -- oh no, a full moon. No! Arrgh! Get away from me! Save yourself!' (A Guy Turning into a Werewolf )"

This autobiography by comedienne Tina Fey (SNL, 30 Rock, Sarah Palin doppelganger) at times seemed randomly put together but for the most part follows the timeline of Tina's life, the majority dealing with her professional life as a writer and an actress. It's pretty short (288 pages with big type), but that's one of only a few complaints that I had. And maybe it's not even a real complaint to wish the book were longer.

I love Tina Fey and found this book laugh-out-loud funny, so much so that I'm sure my husband is glad that I've finished the book and quit reading passages out loud to him.  Good chunks of the book though seemed written almost directly for people in the entertainment industry, and I found myself a little bored in spots.  I would like to emphasize "a little" though, because for the most part, I really enjoyed the book and didn't want to put it down. 

If you like 30 Rock and/or somewhat bizarre humor, you'll like this book.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Review: Every Which Way but Dead by Kim Harrison

My rating: 3.25/5

From Amazon:

"There's no witch in Cincinnati tougher, sexier, or more screwed up than bounty hunter Rachel Morgan, who's already put her love life and soul in dire jeopardy through her determined efforts to bring criminal night creatures to justice.

"Between 'runs,' she has her hands full fending off the attentions of her blood-drinking partner, keeping a deadly secret from her backup, and resisting a hot new vamp suitor.

"Rachel must also take a stand in the war that's raging in the city's underworld, since she helped put away its former vampire kingpin—and made a deal with a powerful demon to do so that could cost her an eternity of pain, torment, and degradation.

"And now her dark 'master' is coming to collect his due."

This book started out slow, but that really didn't bother me.  The author isn't a bad writer as far as that goes, and she kept me hooked plot-wise.  Some things might even keep me reading the series, such as the introduction of a demon creepier than Algaliarept.  But as interested as I still am in Rachel's background and the secrets of her father and the ever-after and whatnot, I still don't like Rachel as a character, and that's a big problem. Sometimes she's alright, but other times she's just an irritating plot device instead of a person.  In spots that were meant to be character-driven, the book read a lot like fan fiction, in that I'm pretty sure the author wishes she were a witch with a mysterious background who could kick butt and be vulnerable and sleep with a vampire with no consequences.  This vampire, by the way, does the bidding of the master vampire who raped her roommate in the previous book and tried to (and nearly did) kill Rachel.  And Rachel knows all of this.  So her new relationship with him is, from this reader's perspective, inexcusable.  The guy even causes a bunch of deaths (and nearly Rachel's) and Rachel basically shrugs it off as not really his fault. She even makes a friend uncomfortable by overtly sexually flirting with the vampire, and she thinks this is funny.  This isn't normal person behavior.  I would also like to know why she keeps fantasizing about Trent when he tried to kill her in book 1.  That's not normal or relatable behavior either.

One of the best characters, Jenks, disappears midway through the book after getting into a huffy argument with Rachel too.  And that's it; no more Jenks for the rest of the book.  He's brought up a few times, Rachel feels guilty, etc., but it seems the author realized she had too many characters and got rid of one of the most interesting ones.  Harumph.

The first two books weren't completely vampire-centric, but this one verged on it, and I have a feeling the series is headed that way.  I'm tired of vampires, so I hope not.  I may continue reading the series, but I'll be giving it a break for a while.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Book Review: 10 Ways to Kill a Cupid

My rating: 3.5/5

From Amazon: "Leigh has a story to tell and despite the absurdity of it, it has to be told before it's forgotten forever.

"You see Leigh used to be a Cupid.
A very silly, naive and regretfully bitter Cupid.
And those are traits a Cupid shouldn’t technically possess.
When Leigh’s murderer is the next assignment, revenge stands in the way of helping Natalie McIntyre find her perfect partner…
That is until the appearance of the blue spark."

Through the course of this novel, you're following Leigh as she becomes a cupid, and then through her most difficult task as a cupid: finding a match for Natalie McIntyre.  Natalie is one of the most hateful people I've ever met in a book, but not to the point of hating to read about her.  She isn't an evil person; she's just had a hard time in life, is full of piss and vinegar about it, and takes it out on everyone around her.

My only real complaints about the book involve not being clear on cupid rules (e.g., at one point it's said that cupids are always of the same gender as their projects, but one woman's cupid was a male?), and that sometimes the violence (though not especially gory) was a little over the top, to the point of distraction. 

This was a cute read though, and not half bad for the author's first novel.  Despite some typos, they were easy to overlook while reading, especially because the story is entertaining and humorous.  I would warn that there's quite a bit of swearing, but again, it's used humorously.  I don't think I've ever read a book before that mixes somewhat serious subjects with such Looney-Tunes-esque slapstick, and for the most part it was done pretty well.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Book Review: The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell

My rating: 4.75/5

The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one;
The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels.
As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.

From Amazon: "Born into a crumbling society plagued by zombies, all 15-year-old Temple knows is to kill or be killed. When she is assaulted at a safe house, she murders her human attacker, Abraham Todd, and runs from his vengeful brother, Moses. Temple soon acquires a traveling partner, a slow mute by the name of Maury, and begrudgingly takes responsibility for his care, remembering a young boy she swore to protect but couldn't save. Fleeing Moses, the "meatskins," and her own battered conscience, Temple still finds moments of simple joy in the brutal world. Bell (a pseudonym for Joshua Gaylord, author of Hummingbirds) has created an exquisitely bleak tale and an unforgettable heroine whose eye for beauty and aching need for redemption somehow bring wonder into a world full of violence and decay"

This is a zombie novel, but it's not your run-of-the-mill gorefest.  (That's not to say it isn't violent and gory and probably everything you'd still expect from a zombie novel, but not senselessly so.)  Instead it stands as one of the most beautiful uses of the English language I've ever read, with a story that's something like Of Mice and Men or Huckleberry Finn, just with a zombie plot.  Temple even uses the pseudonym Sarah Mary Williams around strangers, which is most of the time, and ends up with an adult, Maury, for a traveling partner. 

I wish I'd marked my favorite passages to turn back to, but here are a few examples of the writing nonetheless:

"In the distance there is sometimes the faint glimmer of firelight, dim and implacable. Wilson claims these are mirages, nocturnal illusions that would recede forever if you tried to pursue them. Like the shimmering sylphs of old that led travelers over precipices or into mazy, unending caverns. Not all the magic of the earth is benevolent."

"...God is a slick god, and he knows things about infinities. Infinities are warm places that never end. And they aren't about good and evil, they're just peaceful-like and calm, and they're where all travelers go eventually, and they are round everywhere you look because you can't have any edges in infinities."

"...there were blueprints on the walls, covering all the walls, that blue not quite like any other blue she had ever seen. She tells of how magical they were, those white lines like chalk fibers against that blue, the figures and numbers and arrows like the very nomenclature of man's grandeur, the objects they described like artifacts lost and gone and hinted at in undecipherable etchings for future races smarter than herself to puzzle over. And they were a wonder, those mortal imaginations splayed wide on paper, testaments to vision far beyond her own weary head, testimonials to the faith in the power of human ingenuity to shape something out of nothing..."

Temple herself is a wonderful character, a forced-to-grow-up-too-quickly teenager with an easy, unassuming confidence that shows she can take care of herself and do what needs to be done without being the least bit cocky.  But she's also pained by the demons and memories of everything that's happened to her, and though she never seems to do anything out of malice, the only thing she ever questions is whether or not her soul is redemptible after surviving so many now-commonplace horrors... the blame for which she often places on herself, but without an ounce of self-pity.

I don't want to quite give it 5, only because I don't like the cliche of the "hill people" becoming the worst, inbred monsters of all; but other than that, I can't think of a single complaint, and it still gets the honor of being one of the best books that I've read this year. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Book Review: A Lifetime of Secrets: A PostSecret Book by Frank Warren

My rating: 5/5

From the author: "For A Lifetime of Secrets, the fourth PostSecret book, I've selected postcards that show how secrets can reveal a momentary impulse or haunt us for decades and arranged them by age to follow the common journey we all take through childhood, adolescence, adulthood, maturity. Stretched over a full lifespan, the secrets expose the meaningful ways we change over time, and the surprising ways we don't.

"The postcards narrate childhood stories that have never been spoken; they voice the guarded confessions of our parents and grandparents. They confirm that our rich interior lives are not defined by how old we are, and that with aging comes not only loss but also the possibility of grace and wisdom."

For something with a premise that at first seems purely voyeuristic, this was one of the most interesting, touching, and introspective works of nonfiction that I've ever read.  I am amazed, and at the same time not surprised at all, that so many people would be willing to write a secret on a postcard and send it to a total stranger.  And I'm also amazed at how well the author put the postcards together in this book.  They flow almost seamlessly from one life stage to another, even though they were all written by different people.  Some are uplifting; many are depressing and even downright cringe-worthy.  But it makes the reader think, How would I handle that? How did I handle that? How great that must feel, and how awful that must have been.  And you can't help but examine your own secrets, your own shortfalls and triumphs, and think, how would I decorate my postcard?

Few books make me cry, and this one did.  But I swear it's a good thing. ;)  I'm looking forward to reading all of the other PostSecret books.

Also follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog.

Book Review: Shifting Fate (Chronicles of Fate series) by Alexis Leno

My rating: 3/5

From Amazon: "Times in the mystic realm of Lizon are changing. The Great War remains a distant past for many, but for others, the bleak past is all too clear. When the royal family of Alii is targeted, the kingdom's only Princess begins a quest to set things right. In a world completely controlled by fate, Brynn of Alii must fight against the Shifters, bent on altering the predestined future, to save the world she knows and secure destiny."

I liked this book well enough, but I'm afraid my biggest problem with it was that it just isn't my favorite genre.  I like fantasy, but the Middle Ages-like atmosphere of this type of fantasy all runs together in my head, and I have a hard time keeping interest.  I really enjoyed the beginning; the premise (and promise) of an evil, red-eyed, powerful, vengeful villain was good.  But I never quite fell in love with the good guys, I never quite enjoyed their journey, and the ending wasn't quite satisfactory for me.

I do think the biggest problem though was me, which is why the rating stays at an even 3.  If you're a fan of the magical medieval-ish settings, then this isn't a bad read. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Book Review: Rotters by Daniel Kraus

My rating: 4.5/5

From Amazon: "Grave-robbing. What kind of monster would do such a thing? It's true that Leonardo da Vinci did it, Shakespeare wrote about it, and the resurrection men of nineteenth-century Scotland practically made it an art. But none of this matters to Joey Crouch, a sixteen-year-old straight-A student living in Chicago with his single mom. For the most part, Joey's life is about playing the trumpet and avoiding the daily humiliations of high school.
"Everything changes when Joey's mother dies in a tragic accident and he is sent to rural Iowa to live with the father he has never known, a strange, solitary man with unimaginable secrets. At first, Joey's father wants nothing to do with him, but once father and son come to terms with each other, Joey's life takes a turn both macabre and exhilarating."

Though I at first thought this was a zombie book when I checked it out at the library, I wasn't disappointed when it ended up being decidedly un-supernatural.  Graverobbing, as it turns out, is an artistically morbid profession, and Joey is a very interesting main character who's put in a situation that's both familiar and (hopefully) unfamiliar all at once.  And though Joey deals with things in a sometimes quirky manner, it always makes sense.  The entire book is also filled with the most realistic cast of normatively abnormal people I've ever read.  The only characters I had trouble distinguishing between were the Diggers, and I assume that to be on purpose... as gravediggers prefer their anonymity.

I loved all the action, as well as the non-action, and the reader can't help but feel desperately sorry for Joey in his predicament of losing his mother, moving to a new school where he's bullied, and suddenly living in poverty with a father who at first seems unstable.  If any of those situations even remotely ring true, you will probably enjoy this book. 

The only thing that didn't quite make sense (and is the reason for a 4.5 instead of a 5) was a turn in Joey's personality midway through the book.  He goes from being unsure of himself to being confident, all over Christmas break.  Though I could see Joey heading in this direction, and very much wanted to see him head this way, the change happened so quickly that it threw me off.  That being said though, I quickly got over it and enjoyed the rest of the book without pause.

As usual with a teenage character, there is some swearing, but not unreasonably so.  I would be more concerned about the gore and the drug use (though the drugs are definitely put in a bad light) with the under-high-school crowd.

Also, check out the book trailer here

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Book Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

My rating: 3/5

From Amazon: "As a kid, Jacob formed a special bond with his grandfather over his bizarre tales and photos of levitating girls and invisible boys. Now at 16, he is reeling from the old man's unexpected death. Then Jacob is given a mysterious letter that propels him on a journey to the remote Welsh island where his grandfather grew up. There, he finds the children from the photographs--alive and well--despite the islanders’ assertion that all were killed decades ago. As Jacob begins to unravel more about his grandfather’s childhood, he suspects he is being trailed by a monster only he can see."

I really, really hoped that I would enjoy this book, but maybe my hopes were just too high.  The premise sounded good.  The writing really wasn't terrible.  But there were too many major problems with it that kept me from enjoying it.

1. The story really doesn't get rolling until about the last third of the book.  The first 2/3 are fine, but as far as what I expected from the book (the peculiar children, a mysterious orphanage, etc.), I had a while to wait.

2. Once we get into the meat of it, there are too many characters.  I had a really hard time keeping them all straight when they were all involved in the action-y bits.  The main few were easy enough; the rest, not so much, especially when some of their names begin with the same letter.

3. The photographs seemed forced.  The author used several real (though sometimes slightly altered) old photos to represent the peculiar children.  It's a neat idea, but for the most part, I felt that the writing was forced to fit the photos.  And sometimes the photos still didn't fit, such as a photo supposedly of a child being obviously of an adult, and photos that were supposed to be of the same person not looking identical.

4. Only one of the children's "peculiarities" seemed unique. I won't spoil what it is, but the others were, in my opinion, tired examples of special abilities.  A floating girl, an invisible boy, a girl who creates fire, a girl with super strength, a boy with prophetic dreams, etc.  I've seen these represented in fiction too many times to think they're cool.

That being said, part of my problem with the book probably has to do with the fact that it seems to have been written for a younger audience.  The writing is good and flows relatively well, but it doesn't get very in depth into anything, especially emotional moments.  However, there is a bit of swearing (as a typical 16-year-old probably would do), and there were a few scenes that were more violent and gory than I expected, especially for something that felt more appropriate for a young adult audience (rather than the YA/adult lit that I tend to enjoy more).

The book ends at a point in the story that definitely implies sequels.  I wasn't disappointed in the ending though, and there is a plus side for anyone who wants more of the story: implications that we may see Jacob's grandfather again... and possible battles with monster Nazis. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Book Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Undead by Kim Harrison

My rating: 4 stars

I almost put up the summary of this book from Amazon until I realized it was ridiculous, even mentioning the main character's ability to "tangle with a cunning demon or two" when the book only has one demon. Oy.

Therefore, I give you my own summary:

Rachel Morgan, witch bounty hunter extraordinaire, no longer has a price on her head in this second book of The Hollows series.  At least, not in the same sense: This time there's a serial killer out to murder witches in horrific ways... all of whom have talents similar to what Ms. Morgan seems to be developing.  With intriguing information about her friend/roommate/coworker Ivy's vampiric relations, Rachel's family and past, and who the heck Trent Kalamack is, this book is a definite step up from the first book in the series.

The author definitely improved her game for this book after the good-but-also-disappointing beginning to the series.  The writing is more focused and solid, and for that I am most appreciative.  Like the first book, the plot and action kept me reading, but this time it didn't meander as much as the first book did.  There is a serial killer to catch, and while the previous mysteries are still open (who/what Kalamack is, what happened to Rachel's dad, etc.), they aren't in the forefront.  A lot of these mysteries still aren't solved by the end of this book, similar to the first book, but at least we're given some information and I don't feel like I was left hanging, and for that reason I'll keep reading the series. 

But of course, I have to have some complaints. ;)  [WARNING: A few possible spoilers ensue.]  The main one being Rachel as a character.  For the most part, she's an understandable, relate-able character... but then she has her moments when she's not.  For one, her constant forgiveness of her living-vampire roommate, Ivy, is perplexing.  Like in the first book, Ivy constantly comes close to killing Rachel (in a literal, non-figurative way), who then constantly makes excuses for Ivy's behavior after the fact.  I don't get it.  I understand that Rachel likes Ivy, that when she's not a psycho she's a good friend; but they could be good friends who don't live together, since the close quarters are essentially what drive Ivy to near murder.  If this weren't a worry, they would be fine.  I just don't get it. 

Then there's Rachel's sophomoric moments that make me want to smack her.  Most visibly, one of these moments occurs when Rachel is participating in the police investigation of the serial murders and wants to see a crime scene.  They tell her to wait, they need to document/photograph/do police stuff first, or else the crime scene could be considered contaminated and the guilty party could get off scott free.  So what does she do?  Sneaks in to see the crime scene while they're working on it and gets in trouble... and then yells at everyone who's angry with her and pouts about the fact that she's in trouble.  And on top of this, she never feels guilty for having possibly ruined the investigation.  Really?  I can understand the morbid curiosity, but never once realizing what she's done wrong (when it is entirely obvious to the reader) doesn't make any sense.

However, even with those complaints, I still really enjoyed the book.  I want to know what happens to every one of the characters and I want to find out more about their backgrounds, as well as about the fantastic world the author has created, and that's impressive.  One warning I will add for the queasy: this book is gorier than the last (almost surprisingly so).  But when you're dealing with a supernatural serial killer, I suppose that's to be expected.

Next up in the series: Every Which Way But Dead, Book #3.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Book Review: The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 3/5

From the back of the CD case: "After death only those dogs who are ready may return to the earth as men. Enzo senses that he is close, but for now his thoughts are consumed by the family he is very much a part of. His master Denny has suffered the loss of his wife and has had to fight her parents for custody of his daughter. Even so, Denny maintains his dream of succeeding as a race-car driver. Life, however, is often strewn with the twisted wreckage that oftentimes mars the speedway."

While this audiobook had it's funny moments, its insightful moments, and its heart-wrenching moments, and the narrator, Christopher Evan Welch, did a pretty good job, I never did quite get into it.  Between the brow-beating about manifesting your destiny, constant talk of auto racing (which I admit I'm not into), and never quite getting the full story (why was Eve's dad obsessed with getting custody of Zoe?), it just couldn't hold my attention very well.  I did get through it, but I think if I'd been reading the book, instead of listening to the CDs while I did other things in my car and around the house, I wouldn't have finished it.

If you're a dog lover and a race car lover, then this may be the perfect book for you.  If not, I'd probably recommend skipping it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Book Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

My rating: 5/5

"We grunt and groan, we shrug and nod, and sometimes a few words slip out. It's not that different from before. But it does make me sad that we've forgotten our names. Out of everything, this seems to me the most tragic. I miss my own and I mourn for everyone else's, because I'd like to love them, but I don't know who they are."

From Amazon:
"R is a young man with an existential crisis--he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams.

"After experiencing a teenage boy's memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim's human girlfriend. Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R, but his fellow Dead, and perhaps their whole lifeless world."

The narration in this book is perfectly told by "R," a zombie who can't remember the rest of his name. In fact the entire book is good in every aspect and has become book #2 (#1 being Room by Emma Donoghue) from my 2011 reading that I want to own just to have on the bookshelf.  It's a great and exciting story, every character is fantastically three-dimensional, the writing is fantastic, and it's both hilarious and meaningful all at the same time.  I would even compare the author's writing to Douglas Adams' (though not quite as whimsical), and I don't do that lightly.

But on top of all this, it's also a poignant look into what it means to be alive, what it means to be dead, and what it means to have hope.  Though there's an obvious scientific answer to "living" or "dead," it's much more of a quandary when the dead come back to eat you... and when the dead start making choices and communicating their thoughts.  And there's also the question of whether you're truly living while you're still alive, or if you've already let your soul die long before the body perishes. 

I can't recommend this book enough, though I would caution that it's probably appropriate for high school and above.  It's a little gory (though not overly), has drug and alcohol use, and contains some swearing... though mostly from the living, as the vocabulary of the dead is limited.

And it's already being made into a movie!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Book Review: Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison

My rating: 3.75/5

From Amazon: "The underground population of witches, vampires, werewolves—creatures of dreams and nightmares—has lived beside humans for centuries, hiding their powers. But after a genetically engineered virus wipes out a large part of humanity, many of the 'Inderlanders' reveal themselves, changing everything.

"Rachel Morgan, witch and bounty hunter with the Inderland Runner Services, is one of the best at apprehending supernatural lawbreakers throughout Cincinnati, but when it comes to following the rules, she falls desperately short. Determined to buck the system, she quits and takes off on the run with an I.S. contract on her head and is reluctantly forced to team up with Ivy, Inderland's best runner . . . and a living vampire. But this witch is way out of her league, and to clear her name, Rachel must evade shape-changing assassins, outwit a powerful businessman/crime lord, and survive a vicious underground fight-to-the-death . . . not to mention her own roommate."

The writing in this book is, for the most part, solid and good, and I enjoyed reading it.  I especially loved Rachel's temperamental pixie co-worker, Jenks, and his awesome family (made up of his wife and bazillion kids).  The background is interesting too; it's almost an alternate history, just with supernatural creatures.  But at the same time, I'm still not entirely sure about a lot of things that may be cleared up in future books in the series (The Hollows), such as why the I.S. can have people killed for breaking their contracts, what's up with Ivy (the vampire roommate), what happened to Rachel's dad, what's up with Keasley (the witch across the street), what's up with Nick (just a human...?), etc., etc.  And leaving so many loose ends was part of why I couldn't quite rate the book a 4.  The plot meandered a bit too, in that there were too many problems to deal with all at once, and I'm not sure that much of anything was fixed or solved by the end.  I even caught myself forgetting a few times which problem the main characters were working on at that point. 

However!  I still had trouble putting the book down, which is always a good sign, and I have it on good authority that the other books in the series are even better than this one.  With that, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone looking for an entertaining paranormal urban fantasy series. 

(You can also read the first chapter of the book on Kim Harrison's site for free here: http://www.kimharrison.net/BookPages/DWW/DWW.html)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Christmas in July - Giveaways!

This month I'm participating in Christmas in July at Susanne Drazic's blog, Putting Words Down on Paper.  There will be daily posts and more daily prizes than you have ever dreamed! 

(Disclaimer: I have no idea how many daily prizes you've ever dreamed about, but it does sound like there will be a lot.)

The prize on July 7th (next Thursday) will be an e-book copy of The Death of Torberta Turchin.  Be sure to take a look!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Book Review: Witch Awakening by Karen Nilsen

My rating: 3.75/5

From Amazon: 
"Safire of Long Marsh ... struggles to keep the curse of her psychic abilities secret, lest she be burned at the stake as a witch in her native land Cormalen. Forced to keep her talents hidden instead of learning how to use them, Safire is ill-prepared to face the evil that awaits her. When she meets the rebellious Merius of Landers, a nobleman determined to escape his overbearing father's influence, she finally finds someone who accepts her. But their romance interferes with court plots and family duty and ultimately leads Safire to confront the dark secrets of the House of Landers alone. What she finds there proves to be a test of her unusual gifts, a test that could free the soul of a haunted man--or end in her death." 

The short review: If something like the movie Everafter combined with ghosts and magic sounds like your cup of tea, then I would definitely recommend Witch Awakening to you.  (Note: This is not, however, a clone of Everafter; just similar in setting and in parts of the story.)

The long review:  Karen Nilsen has a real talent for description, and for building a complete, believable world. Many times I came to the end of a chapter and had to keep reading to see what came next.  I wouldn't say that the story is entirely action-packed, but Nilsen clearly knows her created world very well and describes it flowingly and with ease; and that is what kept me reading.

I don't really understand the reviews that describe this as soft-core porn.  It gets a little descriptive in a couple of scenes, but they're certainly not the majority of the story.  My complaint, though, is in the characterization of the main character, Safire.  In the beginning, she's independent, strong, and sarcastic, and I liked her. But then she spends probably the last half of the book crying and vulnerable, and I found myself angry with Safire, wondering what had happened.  I hope this isn't the case, but it seemed like after Safire had her man, she became a stereotypically weak woman.  It bothered me, and is why I couldn't quite rate the book a 4.

That being said though, I would like to read the next book. The author did an excellent job of ending the book but leaving enough suspense to keep the reader wanting more. I especially want to see where Safire goes with her witchiness and what all she's capable of.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book Review: Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham

My rating: 4.5/5

Psychiatric Tales is a graphic novel written by an artist who formerly worked in an acute psychiatric ward in the UK.  It includes eleven stories, mostly about the author's experiences on that ward.  In the introduction, he clearly states the point of writing and illustrating this book: "'Psychiatric Tales' is intended to be a stigma-busting book. This is needed because fear and ignorance of mental illness remain widespread in society."

I would recommend this book to anyone, whether you know nothing about mental illness, think you know about mental illness, suffer from mental illness, or know someone with a mental illness. It's a quick read, and it's informative.  For example, I believed incorrectly that schizophrenia is the same thing as multiple personality disorder.  It's not.  And that people with schizophrenia are by definition dangerous. They're not.

My only complaint is that I would've liked to have more stories included in the book.  On that note though, the author is working on a second volume.  If you would like to see examples from the book, or from his upcoming book, check out his blog and his Flickr stream.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Book Review: Realm Hunter: Pursuit of the Silver Dirk

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon:
"Bear Waters, one of the top bounty hunters in the city of Northport, is in trouble.

"He is in pursuit of a mad cultist whom the Sheriff's Guard has called the Silver Dirk, after the weapon he uses to attack - but never kill - his victims. After some consultation, he has deduced that the Silver Dirk is preparing for an ancient ritual intended to summon the Elder Gods, those ancient beings of horror from primordial days.

"But in his pursuit, he - along with his friend and ally, Grace Hilltop of the Sheriff's Guard - has been transported to a world that we would find very familiar, but that they find amazing and unfamiliar.

"Getting home is but one issue facing Waters and Hilltop. They have to get home before the Silver Dirk can succeed in his plan, threatening the well-being of more than one world.

"In this opening volume of a new series blending fantasy, science fiction, and much more, Realm Hunter: Pursuit of the Silver Dirk begins an exploration of Bear Waters' native world, one closely resembling our own, and several others in a stimulating adventure spanning multiple worlds - and multiple genres."

For the right reader, this is an awesome read.  The story is well thought out and described, and the author does an excellent job of placing himself in the shoes of someone who has never experienced "our world;" that is, the dimension of our world that Bear Waters travels to, specifically to Portland, and to other dimensions as well.  Bear's dimension could be described as somewhere between ours and a medieval Europe, where magic exists and is a part of everyday life.  Bear himself is inquisitive and interested both in learning all he can about the different dimensions, and in finding and stopping the Silver Dirk.  The other dimensions are interesting and sometimes even terrifying, and I applaud the author for his world-building.

My only complaint comes in the amount of explanation and description at times (though to be fair, the same has been said famously of The Lord of the Rings trilogy).  The author, like I said, does a great job of describing our world from an outsider's perspective; but at the same time, he goes a little too far in giving the reader descriptions of things that he or she (so long as the reader is from the U.S. I suppose) already knows.  Many times, a run of several paragraphs could easily be replaced with "So-and-so explained the concept of X." The dialogue is sometimes tedious as well, in the same vein that a conversation could easily be summarized for the reader's sake rather than being completely written out.

Otherwise, this is a great book, and I'd recommend it to fans of fantasy/supernatural and mysteries, and of movies like Journey to the Center of the Earth. Others have recommended it to fans of Dr. Who (which I still need to watch and read).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

First Book Story

Just sharing a link to my "First Book Story" on Cheryl C. Malandrinos' blog, The Professional Writer's Connection!  Check it out and share your thoughts on self-publishing.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5/5

In a future where North America is divided into the Capitol and the 12 districts that serve it, the Hunger Games serve as a reminder to the lower classes that the Capitol can do whatever it wants. It can even steal your children and pit them against each other in a fight to the death for the entertainment of the Capitol's citizenry. 

District 12, where the narrator, Katniss, hails from, is a joke to the rest of Panem.  They haven't had a victor in the Hunger Games in many years, and their last victor is now a stumbling drunk (and is to be played by Woody Harrelson in the upcoming movie, which I'm pretty well gleeful about).  But this year she promises her younger sister that she, Katniss, will be the one to survive.  But will her hunting skills be enough to protect her from the other 23 contestants?

I really enjoyed this book.  It's a quick read, mostly because Katniss (or Kat) is a practical girl, and she tells the story as it is, in present-tense as it's happening. She doesn't use a lot of flowery language, and she doesn't do a lot of time sorting through her feelings or being confused (though that's not to say that she never is), or feeling sorry for herself.  She has depth, but it's as if she doesn't realize or care that she does.  That's just the way it is, and she doesn't spend time reflecting on this.  But she has a way of describing everything to a T with as few words as possible, and she does make some very interesting observations, especially about the people of the Capitol.  And her lack of over-emotionality makes her possibly the most normal and maturing teenage girl I've ever read. 

For that reason, as well as for the social commentary (of which I hope there is more to come in the following two books), I wish every teenager would read this book.  The dystopian future and the fight for survival are interesting, but, like most YA novels, there are those stirring hormones to deal with.  It's confusing, even alarming, she doesn't know how she really feels about it, and it's normal.  There is no I'll-jump-off-a-cliff-because-you'll-come-save-me-or-if-not-I'd-rather-just-die nonsense.  Because guess what, kids; that's called obsession.  Obsession ≠ love.  Obsession => stalking (and/or losing your soul and mortality, but that's quite literally another story).

This book also would make a very good intro to books that have something to say about current, present-day society but don't flat-out say it.  I remember having to be spoon-fed most of what's in books like Farenheit 451 the first time I read them in school, and I think this book would be a lot easier for kids to "get."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

My rating: 5/5

I've been spoiled by good books lately; someone needs to recommend something really crappy so I can clear my brain. I'm on the verge of thinking the good stuff is boring just because it's as good as everything else I'm reading.  Seriously, send me your worst.

That being said, this book is not boring.  It's not terribly exciting, but reading a book told from the eyes of someone with a completely different view of the world is probably my favorite kind of book.

From the back cover: "Christopher John Francis Boone knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.

"This improbable story of Christopher's quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for one of the most captivating, unusual, and widely heralded novels in recent years."

Judging by that description, the main character sounds like an odd duck. But the book is written from 15-year-old Christopher's perspective, and the way he describes his own eccentricities makes them sound almost sensible.  Dogs are easier to understand than people; they make noises and a few different motions to communicate how they feel.  You don't have to try to interpret their facial expressions, and they're not going to lie to you.  Reading Christopher's reactions to people and how he absolutely hates to be touched, not even allowing his parents to hug him without screaming, you both pity his parents and feel Christopher's shocking discomfort to physical contact.  And though neither of his parents is perfect by a long shot, you end up sympathizing with them, even if Christopher can't.  

My husband works with kids with special needs, and he read and recommended this book to me a while ago.  I really enjoyed it, and I would recommend it to anyone looking to understand autism a little better.

After this though, I definitely need to take a break from books written in first person from a child's perspective (i.e., this, Room, and The Dead Fathers Club), but I do enjoy it when it's done well, and all of these authors have done it well.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Interview on the Story Hack blog

New for Monday, an interview with Bryce Beattie, author of the Story Hack blog.  Great questions, and he even added a clip from Community!  How did he know that's one of our favorite shows??

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review: Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith

My rating: 3.5/5 stars

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is set up to mimic a non-fiction account of the life of the iconic 16th President of the United States.  In the beginning, the author is given Lincoln's journals, and from there the story is a mesh between excerpts from the journals and information we assume was gathered from other sources.  It was certainly unique, and I'm glad I read it; but I believe it could have been much better.

I won't go too far into describing the story, as I think the title basically says it all.  Many people close to Lincoln during his life are killed by vampires (most distressingly his mother), and he basically grows up hunting them.  (Of course vampires are involved in the American Civil War, but I won't spoil anything there.)  It could have been such an interesting story; and don't get me wrong, occasionally it was.  But the author tries a little too hard to make it non-fiction-y, and I was often bored.  I'm not bored by non-fiction as a rule, but when I'm expecting to read a fiction story about vampires, I don't care much about all the names, dates, and contents of boats heading down the Mississippi.  If I wanted factual stuff like that, I would read a biography of Lincoln. And because I don't have a lot of information memorized about Lincoln, I had no idea while reading this novel what was actually fact and what had been made up to fit the story.  So when the reading got rough, I skimmed to the interesting parts.  And I skimmed a lot.

I was also somewhat annoyed by the portions of the book that were not taken from Lincoln's journals, where the author was relating or summarizing other information to move the story along.  Sometimes, I liked these parts better than the journal bits.  But the author often relates what a character, Lincoln or otherwise, was thinking, or for example that someone "lifted their eyes" before saying something.  How in the world would a biographer know any of this?  If you're going to plunge into a writing style, don't wear arm floaties; go all the way.  You don't get to also be a regular, descriptive novelist at the same time.

That being said: 1) I think the book would have been better if it had only been written as Abe Lincoln's journal, or if it had been written entirely as a regular ol' fiction story.  And 2) The best part of the book in my opinion was the portion told from John Wilkes Booth's perspective.  No journal entries intruded, and there probably weren't many historical facts to deal with in the way of knowing what Booth was like, what his motivations were, etc.  The author had more freedom here, and it showed.  I only wish more of the book had been from his perspective, or from anyone else's perspective not tied down to such an overload of facts. 

But THAT being said... Abraham Lincoln probably would have made a pretty good vampire hunter. Just saying.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

My rating: 5/5 stars

Room is narrated by a five-year-old boy named Jack.  Jack lives in Room.  He eats at Table, sleeps in Wardrobe, and plays on Rug.  And because he's never been outside of this 11' x 11' place, he thinks Room is the extent of the world, and he's content with it.  His mother, Ma, was kidnapped when she was 19 and imprisoned in Room, a makeshift holding cell constructed by "Old Nick" out of his shed.  Jack calls him Old Nick because he only comes in the nighttime and brings them their supplies and occasional treats, and to spend time in bed with Ma.  But Old Nick recently told Ma that he's been "laid off," and Ma worries that he'll stop bringing them food and cut off their electricity.  It's time for a plan, and Jack must face new facts about the existence of people and places outside of Room.

This is one of the best books I've read in a long time.  The author writes very convincingly as a five-year-old, and every situation he faces brings to light many things readers may have never thought about.  If you'd never seen farther than eleven feet in front of you, how underdeveloped would your depth perception be?  If your mother was the only person who'd ever spoken to you, how confused would you be when somebody else did?  How could you imagine wind or the feel of grass on your feet if you'd never experienced it?  Combining the imagination of a smart but sheltered little boy with a very suddenly expanded view of the universe makes for a very interesting, and at times very emotional, read.  Through Jack's perspective, you can also easily empathize with other characters, especially his mother.  But where Room represents imprisonment for Ma, it's everything Jack knows and loves.  And Jack being forced to view Room differently is both painful and encouraging to experience through reading this book.

For a trailer, see: http://www.amazon.com/gp/mpd/permalink/m4DZ78ND6W1YJ/ref=ent_fb_link

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Book Trailer!

The book trailer for The Death of Torberta Turchin has finally arrived.  Check it out and let me know what you think.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Autism Awareness Reading Challenge

April is Autism Awareness Month, and the Uniflame Creates blog is hosting a reading challenge. 

From the blog post:
"The Rules:
- The challenge runs from April 1st till April 30th.
- You only have to read one book that has something to do with autism.
- Write your thoughts in a blogpost and leave the link to this post in a comment (I will edit this post throughout the challenge to add the links)
- Sharing this post is appreciated because I would like to reach as many people as possible and hope that they will participate :)"

Their recommendations include A Friend Like Henry, With the Light, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  I'd add Look Me in the Eye: My Life With Asperger's to that list.

Also, they'll also be doing some sort of autism-related giveaway mid-April!

Read the full blog post here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

GoodReads Book Giveaway

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Death of Torberta Turchin by Shannon Mawhiney

The Death of Torberta Turchin

by Shannon Mawhiney

Giveaway ends May 01, 2011.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Review -- The Dead Fathers Club by Matt Haig

My rating: 5/5 stars

This is one of the few novels I've read with a unique voice and an unconventional, stream-of-consciousness writing style that was also easy to read and understand.  The author captured the voice of a young boy perfectly and made it a compelling read.  Sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking, I stayed up too late on several nights just to read one more chapter.  I loved it.

From Amazon: "When eleven-year-old Philip Noble is confronted by the ghost of his recently deceased father and asked to avenge his death, the boy finds himself in a thorny dilemma. Revenge, after all, is a tricky business-especially when Philip is already distracted by his girlfriend, school bullies, self-doubt, and all the other challenges of adolescence. Viewing the adult world through the eyes of a young boy, The Dead Fathers Club is a brilliant, quirky take on a classic tale."

Everything about Philip is honest and believable.  Philip is a little odd and quirky, but in a way that makes him relatable; from what he observes to what he thinks and how he reacts to the very stressful situations in which he finds himself, the reader understands him, at least in part.  The reader feels for him, and worries about his sanity, as he comes to terms with his frustrations with adults, with classmates, and with the uncertainties, uncontrollability, and unfairness of life.

The ending left something to be desired, but it worked.  Where some books end on a note of indecision that seems to be a fault of the author, this one has a pretty clear point, and it did not detract from the novel at all in my opinion.  Unfortunately I've never read Hamlet, so I can't attest to this story being a retelling as others have, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  Other reviewers have also compared this book to The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime, which I've added to my list of books to be read.

Recommended for probably high school and up, due mainly to some swearing and one sex scene (none of which the 11-year-old main character participated in, fyi).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Look! Nook!

The Death of Torberta Turchin is now available on Nook through Barnes and Noble! Same price as the Kindle version, and you can download a free sample as well. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/books/product.aspx?ean=2940012308894

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Hot off the presses!

The Death of Torberta Turchin is now available in print on Amazon.

And just as an fyi, buying two would get you free shipping. ;)  You know.  If you want.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Review -- Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1

My rating: 4/5 stars

Softwire: Virus on Orbis 1 by PJ Haarsma is a great Young Adult science fiction novel. I'm an adult, but I could barely put my Kindle down while reading it. If anyone is looking for a book that their kids will enjoy, or anyone looking for accessible sci-fi, I definitely recommend this one.

This first book of a four-book series centers on Johnny Turnbull, or JT, one of over 200 orphan children brought to Orbis from Earth. They have never known Earth or their parents, having been born on their seed ship after the adults had already passed away, and look forward to their life on Orbis. However, as in our lives on Earth, the children's new lives are not what they imagined, and JT, his sister, and his friends must fight for their lives and for the very existence of Orbis.

Unlike many sci-fi novel geared towards adults, this book is very accessible, with just the right amount of jargon and background information to keep the reader interested without feeling overwhelmed. An easy, entertaining read.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Publishing on Kindle

Publishing on Kindle is relatively easy, but there are several steps involved.  The following details the steps I took and the resources I used to do so.

1. Save files as .doc format.  (Mine were already in this format, but good to note that this is the best format for creating a Kindle-friendly work.  Also make sure that your file does not have any fancy formatting like footnotes or bulleted lists.)

2. Now save the file as a "Web page, Filtered" (or similar, depending on your word processing software).

3. Open your .html file in Notepad.  (If you've never worked with html before, don't worry; most of it will be ignored anyway. Don't panic. :) )  In some places in my file, instead of a paragraph tag, <p>, at the beginning of every paragraph (and a closing paragraph tag, </p>, at the end), I had two break tags, <br>.  And that won't work for Kindle publishing.  If your file does not have a <p> at the beginning of each paragraph and a </p> at the end, you will have to add them in.  This step was time-consuming for mine, but it was doable.  If you need a blank line, such as after a chapter heading, use <p>&nbsp;</p> .  If you want any text to be centered or right-aligned, use <p align="center"> or <p align="right">.  And if you would like any of your text to be larger than the rest, like chapter titles or the book title, use <h1> at the beginning and </h1> at the end, in place of the paragraph tags.  (Or for even larger text, <h2>, <h3>, etc.)  I also added at the beginning of each chapter a <mbp:pagebreak /> tag, so that each new chapter would start on a new page.

4. Create a cover image.  I created mine in PhotoShop, using an image I found on the website http://www.sxc.hu/, which I got permission from the photographer to use.  Remember that the image will be in black and white on Kindle but in color on Amazon's site, so try to design your cover to work well in both.  Minimum size should be 600 pixels wide by 800 pixels high.  Save in .jpeg format.  

5.  Download Mobipocket Creator.

6. Open Mobipocket Creator.  Under "Import From Existing File," click on "HTML document." Browse to your .html file, then click "Import."  Once it has finished importing, click on "Cover Image" and add the image you created in step 4.  Be sure to click on the "Update" button at the bottom.  Then click on "Metadata" and fill out the relevant information (title, author, description, etc.).  When finished, click the "Update" button at the bottom, then the "Build" button at the top in the blue navigation bar.  (I left my file at Standard Compression and No encryption.) Then click "Build" at the bottom.  Once it has finished, I recommend choosing to "Open folder containing eBook," so you know exactly where it's located.  And now you have a .prc file, which can be read on a Kindle.

7. Download Kindle Previewer from Amazon.  (Scroll down to Kindle Previewer.)

8. Open Kindle Previewer.  Go to File, Open Book, and navigate to where your .prc file is.  Review your file to make sure it appears how you want it to appear.  If not all of the text is viewable, like it's running off the page to the right, don't worry; this is a problem with the Kindle Previewer, not with your file.  Don't spend an hour trying to figure out what you did wrong like I did.

9. Once you're happy with what you have, sign in to Kindle Direct Publishing.  Here you will add your file and all the relevant information, and you're finished!  Within a day or two, your book will be available for sale.  At the present time, if you price your book between $2.99 and $9.99, you will receive a 70% royalty on each sale.  Anything higher or lower will net you only 30%.

I hope this helps, and please feel free to ask questions!  If I can't answer them, someone else may be able to. 

HOW TO: Publish Your Book on Amazon Kindle by Dylan Love
Kindle Formatting by Joshua Tallent
If you want to download a sample of my Kindle book and see how it looks go here: The Death of Torberta Turchin  (If you don't own a Kindle, you can download a Kindle Reading App for iPhone, PC, Mac, Blackberry, iPad, Android, or Windows Phone 7.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Finding an agent

To be clear right off the bat, this is not instructions on how to find a literary agent, or the steps I took to find my agent, because I never found one.  Or, I found several, but none ever wanted to read my manuscript, let alone represent me.  But these are the steps I took in my attempt nonetheless, and I think a lot of other writers will relate.

In 2008, I purchased the latest edition of Novel and Short Stories Writer's Market.  I went through the entire section of agents, highlighted those that might be interested in my book, and began writing queries.  I looked up all the information I could find on how to write the best query letters.  I paid close attention to what each agent wanted, because they all had different requirements.  Some accepted queries via email, some did not and had to be sent through snail mail.  Total, I sent to 15 agents.  Total rejections: 14.  One I never heard back from.

After that, I was discouraged.  I didn't want to give up exactly, but I was seriously questioning the quality of my work and I took a break.  In the next couple of years, I finished grad school and got married, and I edited my manuscript a few times but never made any serious changes.  And in 2010, I tried again.

Again, I used the Writer's Market book, and again I wrote and rewrote my query letter according to the different standards each agent required.  More agents accepted e-queries this time, which was thankfully easier and cheaper.  However I also noticed this time that the majority said specifically that if I did not hear back from them, then the answer was a no.  They wouldn't be sending a courtesy rejection letter.  Total again, I sent to 15 agents, all different than my first round.  Total rejections: 6.  The other 9 I never heard back from.

And so ended my search for an agent.  Typing it out like this, it seems like I didn't try very hard.  30 agents, big deal; surely I could have found more to try.  And probably I could.  But finding agents who specifically represent young adult fantasy novels and who are accepting queries from unpublished authors is more difficult than it sounds.  And navigating all the different requirements of each, which usually I wouldn't mind and almost treat as a challenge, is time-consuming, especially when you're at the point of expecting either no reply at all or a short, canned-response rejection for your efforts.

Though I had read and been told over and over again that finding an agent was the only way to be reputably published, and that self-publishing was for terrible, unreadable writers who couldn't take a hint... I decided that I was tired of having this finished manuscript sit dormant on my computer.  I read that it was easy to publish on Kindle, so, I decided to go for it. 

In my next entry, I'll detail the steps I took to do so.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In the beginning...

... there were ideas.  Lots of ideas, and mostly incoherent.  I still have a notebook stuffed in a dresser drawer full of ideas I jotted down for stories 5+ years ago, some of which I don't even understand anymore and all of which went nowhere.

Except for two.  One I turned into a short story for a writing class I took at Missouri State University and is now published on Kindle.  The other I wrote into a full-length novel over the course of the last few years and is also published on Kindle, and will be in print soon.

But getting to this point was anything but quick, and it wasn't exactly easy.  In my next posts I will describe the process I went through looking for agents, turning my files into Kindle-appropriate ones, and creating cover images and using CreateSpace for print publishing.  As I go through the process of marketing my writing, I will also describe that here too. 

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to discussing the ups and downs of this process with you.