Tuesday, January 24, 2012

E-Reader or No E-Reader? That is the Question.

E-readers have exploded into use within the last couple years. Every time I go, well, anywhere, I know I'm bound to see at least one person with one. And I live in a small town. I can only imagine the abundance of these devices in a New York City coffeehouse.

And hey, what's not to love? Fancy versions of these doodads, like the spiffy lil Kindle Fire you see in the pic above can just about replace the computer for casual internet users. With games, internet, books and magazines at your fingertips, it can do the same things as the netbook I'm using to type this very blog. Like I said, it's fancy!

I don't deny the fabulosity (this should totally be a real word) of many of these e-readers. In fact, when a friend of mine was gifted with a Nook a year ago, I was in awe. I wanted one with the same passion that I wanted an Ipad when they were first released. But then, new gadgets always seem to wrap me up in some kind of love spell.
Thankfully, as time wore on, the spell wore off (just as it did with the Ipad that I never got and no longer want). I realized that I just don't need it, and more importantly, I don't truly want it. I love books - books with covers and pages. Books I can smell. Yes, you read that right - I said smell. I find few things in the world more pleasing than picking up the book I'm about to read and and inhaling it. Each book is unique and so is it's smell. Each one different, yet so similar. This is happiness for me.

Of course I'm not trying to sway you either way, I'm simply telling you how I feel. As long as there are books in print that I haven't read, I will not purchase or use an e-reader. I would miss my real books too much.
Well, I'm off to enjoy the book I'm currently reading (The Tin Ticket) while I'm sure Amazon is debating the merits of creating an "Old Book Smell" app for their fire-y little Kindle above.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Review: Lover's Leap by Emily March

The Book: Lover's Leap (Book 4 in the Eternity Springs Series)

The Author: Emily March
The Publisher: Ballantine Books

After struggling through a particularly boring book (more on that soon), I had almost lost the will to read. However, Lover's Leap was just gem I needed to re-spark my desire to read.

Summary: After traveling across the world, Sarah is floored when her path collides with Cam Murphy. The father of her daughter. Her first love. After fleeing to the safety of her home in Eternity Springs, Sarah tries to forget about Cam, which shouldn't have been too hard, since he abandoned her twenty years earlier and called their daughter a "mistake". That was, until he showed up in Eternity Springs, "tilting her world on it's axis."

Reaction: Despite the overused phrase quoted above regarding the tilting of Sarah's world on it's axis, Lover's Leap was beyond delightful to read. Having read many romance books, I've come to expect a rather predictable roller coaster ride of emotions. There is usually a hard struggle up with a bit of joy at the top and then free fall as the world comes crashing down. This is followed by another high and then happiness as the story comes to a close. Lover's Leap sort of follows this model. The only difference being that Emily March throws in all sorts of twists, turns, and loop-de-loops along the way. I swear, this roller coaster knows how to go sideways! Just when I think my emotions are safe, she throws in a punch!

Verdict: 5 of 5 stars. All I gotta say is, there is a reason this book made it on the New York Times bestseller list! Now, off to get my hands on the first three in the series...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

New Direction

I kicked off last month with gusto and ended it with a thud. As I blogged earlier, I participated in NaNoWriMo. My novel made it to 3,000 words when I decided to scrap it and go a completely new route. The new novel hit 6,000 words before I gave up. But I'm not sad. I'm not beating myself up. Why? Because this experience taught me something very important about my writing: direction.

I have known that I want to an author since third grade when I wrote down a dream I had the night before. I will always remember that moment and the joy I felt seeing my thoughts written down on paper. After that, I was always writing, always thinking, and always thinking about writing.

In high school, my "thing to do" was write stories about my friends. I would think of my closest friends and use their personalities to create a story that involved us doing crazy things -- owning our own island and fending off a masked gunman, for one. My friends always looked forward to reading the next chapter to see "what I did to them". Couples who broke up in real life might be killed in the story (or at least the bad boy who broke my friends heart was anyway). It was crazy stuff, more fit for soap opera than a novel. But I loved it.

My point in mentioning this is that, looking back, I have realized a lot about my desires and writing processes, and some errors I've made along the way. In recent years, when I sat down to write, I would create elaborate outlines, making sure everything fit with everything else. I didn't want to rewrite the first chapter because I went a different way with the tenth chapter. I wanted it perfect. I wanted a strong plot, stunning imagery, and tension levels unsafe for anyone with a heart condition. I wanted a final draft the first time around. Yeah, yeah, I'm not sure what I was thinking there. But instead of excitement, what I got, instead, was bored. So bored, I couldn't finish it.

That's when I started thinking about the past and how I used to write. Those stories about my friends were so carefree, so fun, and I didn't care what anyone thought of them. I wrote from the hip, I guess you could say. Not once did I plan ahead, prepare, plot, or outline. I didn't even know who the gunman was until I wrote his name during the big reveal at the end. I like that, because I want to be surprised too. Think of it this way: I will often read a book and then watch a movie based on it, but I won't read the book after I watched the movie. In both cases, once I've read/watched the first, I already know what is going to happen, so reading/watching the second will contain no surprises. The distinction for me is time. Watching a movie is quick. Reading a book is not. And writing a book takes exponentially much more time. If I'm spending all that time writing the story, I want to get something out of it. I want to be surprised at the end, too!

This all means that I've simply found my method of creating raw material. My first draft will be completely raw, unplanned, and uninhibited. It's the only way to get the story out of me. My subsequent, and necessary, drafts will polish the story until it shines. I like this plan.

The second major thing I realized is that I need interest. Not just for the reader, but for me. I have to be really interested in the story or I can't write it. Makes sense in hindsight, but this wasn't always so clear to me. I've always heard the advice "Write what you know", but I think listening to this gave me more problems than benefits. This left me writing fluff that I'm barely interested in. I'm not a genius. I don't have any interesting hobbies. I don't have a niche of expertise to draw from. I just want to write. The problem is that the two types of books I like most need quite a bit of specialized knowledge: historical romance and mystery. For a while, I tried to research the time period of historical romance that I like the most, but I found that I prefer to read these stories more than write them.

This leaves me with mystery. While mystery encompasses a broad range of novels, somewhere, law is involved and I don't know the law (at least not beyond what you see on CSI). I'm a perfectionist. I don't want to put something in my book thinking it's true, while the cops reading it are laughing at me for being stupid. I'm not sure why, but researching law seems very daunting to me (Surprising, considering I once contemplated going to law school). Regardless, I've decided it is a very necessary thing to do for myself.

I'm feeling very excited about my new direction. I feel like I've found the missing edge pieces preventing me from completing the puzzle. Now, I'm going full force into a mystery novel, that while I have a basic idea of the subject, I have no idea how it will end. This is very exciting!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Review: Free To Bloom by Jill Green

The Book: Free to Bloom or (http://freetobloombook.com/)
The Author: Jill Green
The Publisher: Advocate House

Summary: Free to Bloom is a delightful collection of eleven stories highlighting moments in Danielle's life, from divorce to growing marijuana.

Reaction: At 94 pages, this was a super fast and enjoyable read. Each short story exposes the main character's life in short blips of time and covers a wide range of emotions- fear, anger, love, passion - and so many others. Despite being short stories, there is never a lack of action, imagery, or detail.

At times, I did find myself wishing that some of the stories were more connected with back story, if only to keep myself chronologically grounded.

Regardless, this was a wonderful read that left me smiling throughout much of it. Very good read.

Verrdict: 4 Stars

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Review: The Baker's Wife by Erin Healy

The book: The Baker's Wife
The author: Erin Healy
The publisher: Thomas Nelson

WOW! If I could sum up The Baker's Wife in one word, it would definitely be "wow".  I wasn't sure what to expect with this book as I had never read anything by Erin Healy, but it far surpassed any pre-conceived notions I had based on the descriptions of it. It has a little bit of everything in it: suspense, action, arguments for and against religion, love, spirituality, mystery. You can download the first four chapters for free here.

Summary: After a scandal cost Audrey's husband his pastoral career, they opened a small bakery in town. One foggy morning, Audrey was driving to the bakery when she hits a scooter and finds a puddle of blood in the intersection, but no body. The scooter and the blood both belong to the wife of a local detective, who is missing. The detective is positive Audrey is behind his wife's disappearance.

Unable to locate his wife, the detective takes matters into his own hands, holding Audrey's family hostage in the bakery. It's up to Audrey, an ex-con, and a teen to find his wife before the detective completely loses control. 

Reaction: I just can't say enough good things about The Baker's Wife. I was hooked from the first page right through the last. There was never a dull moment. I never wanted to put the book down. I loved how each character had at least one intricate connection to someone else and I enjoyed how each connection was slowly revealed.

There is significant religious reference, but not in an annoying or over zealous way (which is saying a lot, because I generally avoid religiously centered books). There are characters that portray both pro-religion and anti-religion, which I enjoyed. I like that both sides were represented.

The characters are so lifelike that I almost felt their emotions as they experienced them. I was teary-eyed more than once! The back story for each character felt like it was almost torn from them, raw and emotional. They were exposed detail by detail until the complete web of their lives are before you. The skill with which Healy does this will leave you in awe.

I absolutely will be seeking out Healy's other novels.

Verdict: 5 Stars hands down.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: A Thinking Man's Bully by Michael Adelberg

The book: A Thinking Man's Bully
The author: Michael Adelberg
The publisher: The Permanent Press

I am very conflicted when it comes to A Thinking Man's Bully. There were many aspects of the book that I loved and many that I hated. I was very eager to read this book, so it makes me a bit sad to leave it feeling so unsettled.

Summary: Matt Duffy was a childhood bully who was friends with another child bully who committed suicide. Now, his own son has become a bully. But it's not until his wife urges him to seek a therapist after his son also attempts suicide, is he able to see where he fits into the scheme of things.Through a series of "stories" written to his therapist, Duffy faces his demons for the first time in his life.


What I loved: The premise - I was bullied in school and was very interested to hear stories from the opposite point of view; the writing - Michael Adelberg has a talent for visualization without flowering up the prose. I don't feel like he wasted any of my time with useless words.

And that's about it.

What annoyed me: When I think of A Thinking Man's Bully, it brings back bitter memories of when I read Memoirs of a Geisha. With Memoirs of a Geisha, I actually finished the whole book before I realized that even though the whole book was set up as a memoir, and titled as one, it was a complete work of fiction. I was angry. I felt lied to. And I feel similar frustrations with A Thinking Man's Bully. Now, I realized early on that it was indeed fiction, however, not until after I was a little into the book. Sure, if I had paid more attention to the cover synopsis clearly stating the main character's name, which is drastically different than that of the author, of course I would have connected it. But often, I don't really read the backs of books completely, an since this was a book I won on Goodreads.com, it wasn't like I went to the store and selected it based on what it was about.

My point in mentioning this is that without noticing the difference in names, the fact that this is NOT non-fiction is not made apparent AT ALL. First, it is set up with a table of contents which are typically not found in fiction books. Second, the story is told as "memory stories" to the narrator's therapist, where the narrator makes a point to highlight in separate sections his discussions with the therapist. Third, there are numerous mentions of the narrator "writing this book". In non-fiction you are keenly aware that you are reading a book, and that is okay. With fiction however, I absolutely do not want to be reminded on a continual basis that I'm reading a book. It shocks the mind out of the story and the whole "feel" of the story is gone. It completely ruined the book for me.

Other small annoyances:
*The cover is unflattering at best. Thankfully a crappy cover isn't going to stop me from reading a great book, but a great cover will definitely GET me to read a crappy book. Just sayin'.

* The title - I realize the title was suppose to sum up all the bullies into a cozy one-liner, but the inaccuracy of the title bugs me. The title refers to self-chosen nickname for a specific character in the book, and one who I believe doesn't have a remotely large enough part in the book, as implied in the synopsis.

*The chats with the therapist - Like a previous reviewer noted, the stories are great. The therapist chats? Not so much. I felt they were boring and too easy. The narrator is a tough man, not prone to talking about his feelings. Yet, just a couple visits into the tale and he's spouting off psychoanalysis jargon like he is the shrink and not the patient. Sure, eventually the patient will get the idea of how the therapist wants them to retrain their thinking... but it was too soon, too easy. I would expect him to fight against the therapist's demands much harder than he did.

In all, this was a good book by a wonderful storyteller, but the plot setup, cover, and some character interactions left the book feeling flat and, at times, unbelievable.

Verdict: 2 Stars

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: Suburbanistas by Pamela redmond Satran

The book: Suburbanistas
The Author: Pamela Redmond Satran
The Publisher: Downtown Press

Suburbanistas is a light, easy read. If given the free time, I probably could have blown through this book in a day, maybe two, despite the fact that it has 335 pages. While I love series books, and Suburbanistas is the fourth in a series located in the fictional town of Homewood, I don't find myself eager to look up the rest of them. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy the book. I'm just not over-the-top in love with it.

Summary: This is a story of two best friends; Stella, a famous movie star with a career heading south and Mary Jean, a mom of four married to her childhood love, who just happens to be Stella's ex. After two decades, the two of them reunite. Can they become friends again? Or are they just too different now?

Reaction: The characters are well developed and the plot is mostly believable. The story flows easily, with a few surprise twists, but nothing too shocking.

I chose this book looking for a fun read, and that's exactly what I got. Beyond the horrible cover art, is a charming tale of small town suburban life. Above all, it's a story of friendship.

Verdict: 3 stars