Uh-oh!

I’ve stepped in it this time! For real and good. And there’s not a thing I can do about it, except maybe  fake my own death.

A few months ago, a human I absolutely adore asked me if I might be interested in participating in a panel discussion on blogging at the Mid-South Book Festival. Of course I said yes! I would find ANY excuse to hang with Emily. AND I get to talk about blogging? Sign me right up! It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Happy hugging! It's going to happen!

Happy hugging! It’s going to happen!

But now it’s THAT time. The Festival is this Saturday, and I think I might puke or pee my pants. I’m a wee bit nervous (see what I did there?).

Here’s the thing. I’m not nervous about the panel. I could talk blogging all day long. They will have to slap some duct tape over my mouth to shut me up. I love writing, and I love my platform. I can sing the praises of WordPress all day long. I tried other platforms back in the day, but I never got far. I don’t even know how I found WordPress in the first place, but it has been the best for everything from building community to actually designing… Wait a minute. I am not going to give away ALL the milk for free. You’re just going to have to show up for the panel discussion to buy this cow.

I’m also not nervous about meeting up with Emily. We’ve met live and in person a couple of times. She is great. The only concern I have is what to wear. She has already seen my Cookie Monster shirt, and it’s dirty anyway. Not enough time to do laundry. Maybe Severus Snape? But which one? Such hard decisions.

I’m not even nervous about the trip. It’s a long drive. Like, seven or eight hours, after a day of teaching. But I’ll be fine. I’ve made long trips before. And even my husband isn’t too worried. Last night, he tossed me the GPS and said “Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.” *** It’s cool.

The reason I’m all wigged out and losing sleep is because it just occurred to me that there might be more people at this festival thing than just me and Emily. And I don’t always play well with others. Socially awkward is putting it mildly. I’m less wallflower and more drywall fungus.

I’m a good public speaker. I grew up doing theater, and I loved it. Still do. And I can give a keeper chat at work without batting an eye. I’m doing a 2 hour tour tomorrow night (it’s better than a three hour tour because no tiny ships get tossed), and I will use up every single second and enjoy it. I can talk to zoo guests.

But there’s a difference. A keeper chat or a tour is all about me sharing cool facts and stories about the animals around me. At the book event, there might not BE any animals around me. I tried to talk Big Al into going with me. I suggested a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, and maybe a monocle.He could be my conversation starter.

Al says "Nah!"

Al says “Nah!”

It was a stretch to invite him in the first place . He weighs a quarter ton, and he hogs the radio when he rides shot gun. Not to mention his poop issue. But it doesn’t matter. I won’t be forced to listen to “So Happy Together” on repeat for eight hours because he gave the trip a hard pass. If it was a Bonnaroo kind of hoo-ha, he said, he’d go. Those things take place in a field. This one takes place in a theater. No hay, no Al. Tough break for me, man.

I don’t know how to talk to regular people. Do they bite? Will they hit me? Worse – will they laugh at me? Will they ask Emily how she could invite such a hack? I’m not even sure what to say. What do people who aren’t in the zoo field talk about, anyway? Tell me quick because I’m leaving Thursday, and I sure don’t know.

I wish Al was going with me. Even if his turd nuggets DO sometimes weigh three pounds apiece. Wait a minute! Hold the phones! I’m not nervous anymore! I do believe I just found my conversation starter! If a three pound turd doesn’t impress, then maybe I can share my bird skull collection.

I think it’s going to be okay!

*** I might be paraphrasing here.

My 2016 Wishes

Just to clarify, 2016 is a year, not a quantity. It’s not that long a post, cross my heart.

2015 was a good year. A fine year. It was okay. I’m sure it did its best. 2016, though, wow. It sits on the horizon like a shiny new boyfriend, dangling its baubles of possibility. It hasn’t yet left its underwear on the floor, eaten my stash of MoonPies, or stolen my car. There’s still that tiny chance that it will be perfect, The One. Heck, it’s so special it’s even got an extra day. I plan to spend that bonus day like found money, friends. It’s already burning a hole in my pocket.

I made some wishes to start the New Year out right. In a new relationship, it’s important to say exactly what you want, you know. So here goes.

  1. I want my new computer to pack itself up and send itself back for repairs. I’m not asking for the moon, here. I’m not requesting a self-healing laptop or anything. That would be greedy, and maybe a little unrealistic. I just want it to throw itself in the box and print out its own packing labels and such. And I don’t want it to use my reindeer duct tape to seal itself up, either. I know I said I was okay with the the thing being broken, but depression is sneaky like that. One minute I’m pretty okay with adulting; the next minute, the thought of having to hook up the printer, get out the packing tape, and insert flange A into slot B is overwhelming.
If the elves can't fix them, maybe they can just buy me new ones?

If the elves can’t fix them, maybe they can just buy me new ones?

  1. I want my Vibram Five Fingers to last forever. I received a pair as a gift a couple of days ago, and they already make me sad because I know that in six months or a year, all the tread will be gone, and I’ll have to throw them away or risk slipping and falling to my death. Then I’ll be Five-fingerless. They make my feet look like flippers, but they are heaven. They feel like magic, so maybe they ARE magic. Maybe some little flipper-footed elves will make me new pairs in the dead of night?
  2.  I want this to be the year that I can read more books by the expedient of shoving a computer chip in my skull. I used to study in college by rubbing my notes on my head and then sleeping with them under my pillow, but I think that only works if the volume in question is under ten pages. My to-be-read list is a giant backlog of things too good to skip. I just have to find the built-in card reader that I’m sure my head came with. Lesson learned: it isn’t in my nose.
  3. This year, I want to figure out a direction for my blog. Probably north. North is good. Except for the polar bears. But south means piranhas. See, this is why I’ve never found direction. There’s no way to win.
  4. I want this to be the year that Americans get their collective thumbs out of their collective card-readers and vote on issues, not along party lines. Forrest Gump said it best when he stated “That’s all I got to say about that.”
  5. I wish for zero One Direction trends on Twitter in 2016. I don’t see this happening. I think I’m wasting a wish here.
  6. I will learn to Nae Nae in 2016. My kids say “No No.”
  7. In 2016, I will focus on my art.
    On a related note, maybe this will be the year I remember which side of the hand is pinkie, and which is thumb.

    On a related note, maybe this will be the year I remember which side of the hand is pinkie, and which is thumb.

     

  8. In 2016, I will write the correct year on all my cheques by April at the latest. This is an almost mystical wish because I still write 2008.
  9. This will be the year I get my Christmas shopping done before Winter Solstice. Ah, who am I kidding? A little pressure is a good thing.
  10. In 2016, I will not be bound by conventions that dictate lists should be ten items long. I have a year to work on it.

 

What are your wishes for 2016? If you did a New Years Post, link it in the comments. I’d love to read it!

She’s Back With Another Book!

Last year I reviewed a book from a rockin’ debut author. When I was offered an opportunity to read her next book for review, I jumped at the chance. I devoured the book in a weekend. That was months ago. But did I actually review it? Erm, does it count if the words are up in my head? No? Fine. It’s time to shake those words out here.

I'm a sucker for black and white images.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of reading Rattle by Olivia R. Burton. The author herself shared a copy with me in exchange for an honest review. Here’s the honest part. I learned it was a romance novel, and I almost didn’t read it. My great-auntie devoured romance novels, bodice-rippers with some scantily clad lady in the grips of some half-naked Fabian wannabee swooning on the cover. I was a kid who would read anything, so I sneaked a peek one day to see if it interested me. It did not. In the worst way, it did not. I ever after associated romance with insipid women who preferred their men big on biceps and short on brain. So I almost gave Rattle a hard pass. I am so glad I did not.

I’ll try to share the basic premise to the story without giving too much away. I hate spoilers, you know. Finn is your average, everyday necromancer who has limited control over his power. He’s not exactly what one might call a mental giant, and he allows himself to be exploited by Angelina, who uses his sex appeal to manipulate money from clients. Following the unexpected death of a client, Finn decides to take the money and run. The chase is on, and Angelina sends her hired goons to hunt Finn down, and he flees, straight into the arms of Veruca. He wonders if he has gone from frying pan to fire when he learns that Veruca is a Reaper in the pay of the Prince of Hell.

Rattle ain’t your great-auntie’s romance novel, let me tell you. Burton manages to turn what I have always thought of as a traditional romance dynamic on its ear. The protagonist, Veruca, is beautiful and sexy of course, but she’s also smart and strong and knows what she wants. Finn is kind of a goober. Instead of being the dominant one in the relationship, Veruca essentially keeps him as a pet.

Not only does the dynamic play out in a more satisfying way, the book is well-written. Burton doesn’t mess around when it comes to world-building. She writes with a deft hand, crafting the setting, the people, the magic, the limitations of all three. And she does it without the dreaded info-dump. Burton is a master of show-not-tell, unveiling details and backstory naturally. When she shows her readers what it looks like to take a soul, I believe her. Because she said so. Her world feels real to me because undoubtedly it feels real to her, and she’s so, so good at sharing what’s in her head.

The book isn’t just a paranormal romance, either. It’s a thrilling ride all the way around as Finn and Veruca dodge the bad guys. It’s about 90% action, 10% huggy-kissy, so don’t let the romance bit scare you away.

The book isn’t perfect. The action at the end becomes a bit muddy, and I get lost from time to time, and the huggy-kissy is rather naughty. But I can skim the blushy bits if I have to.

All in all, I give Rattle a solid four stars. It’s a fun ride all around and a quick read, and I recommend it.

 

What have you read lately?

The Best Seventy-Five Cents I Spent This Week

I cut off the Boston Globe's blurb. You're welcome.

I cut off the Boston Globe’s blurb. You’re welcome.

I almost didn’t buy it when I found it on the shelf, My arms were already full. I had a new Mercer Mayer book to add to our collection. (If you have never visited Little Critter’s website, you are totally missing out), an gorgeous illustrated guide to the animals of Star Wars, and a couple of video games for the boys. Our used bookstore has it all.

So when I found this book, squashed between half-a-dozen different Marley and Me wannabes, I almost gave it a pass. It was a horse story, which was appealing. But it was also a memoir. I don’t read many memoirs. By their nature, they are far too subjective, usually without the author’s awareness. We all want to believe we’re telling the honest truth, but the best we can ever hope for is the truth as we see it. But I do love a good animal story. Besides, it was seventy-five cents, and I didn’t have another book with in the car. I always have a book with me. I bought Susan Richards’ Chosen By a Horse.

I started reading it in the car. Husband got out at the running store. I stayed in the car to read. I read it during lunch. I read it while Squish and the Padawan tried out their new game. I read some more, finished the book, and then I locked myself in my room so I could have an ugly cry. In the words of a wise man, I was “tore up from the floor up.”

The book is the story of Susan’s experience with a horse rescued from years of neglect and the impact the animal had on her life.The story opens when Susan decides to foster a starving and neglected mare and foal from a herd confiscated from a racing stable and carries the reader through the animal’s road to recovery and eventual integration into Susan’s small herd of horses. And we learn some stuff.

The book isn’t perfect. The author had a really clear agenda. She hit us over the head with it every couple of chapters. This damaged horse taught her to love again. I get it! Stop already!I’m fairly bright. I can make the connection between the horse and the healing all on my own, thanks.

And there were some weird things. One detail that drove me ever-lovin’ nuts was the author’s insistence on referring to the horse by registered name, Lay Me Down, throughout the entire book. She made a big deal about how important names are to horse people. This notion doesn’t quite gel with my own personal horse experience. All the horse people I have ever known have been pretty blithe about names, mostly because horses don’t care what you call them. Every one that came into the barn got a new name upon purchase. The animals never really seemed to notice that yesterday they were Champ, and today they’re called Beau (and it seemed that ALL of them were called Beau).

And who calls an animal by its registered name, anyway? I’ll answer my own question. No one. There was once a show dog named Royal Tudor’s Wild As The Wind. If her owner had to say all that, the dog would never get to thedinner table before the kibble was cold. They called her Indy. There’s registered name, and there’s call name. But this is a minor detraction.

There was also a brief interlude into the metaphysical that almost made me give up. I don’t mind people who believe in a sixth sense, but that’s not the book I was hoping to read. Fortunately, within a few pages we get past the psychic friend and into the real story.

Aside from a couple of polishing issues early on, this book is well-written. So well-written, in fact, that I finished it in an afternoon. So well-written that it is going on my favorites shelf to be read again. And again. And again. Richards has a deft hand with description. I feel like I’m there being pushed around by Georgia the bossy Morgan, spoiling Lay Me Down with pets and peppermints, falling into the comfortable rhythm of caring for animals, each with distinct personalities.

I bought the paperback. Should you choose to read it, I recommend not looking at the front or the back cover, as giant spoilers are contained therein. Infuriating spoilers. Don’t look. Unless you need to. Without the blurb on the front cover, the book would have made an even deeper impact.

So there you have it, a book that was meant to be a throw-away ends up on my favorites shelf forever more. Has anybody else read Chosen By a Horse? I’d love to discuss!

What are you reading now?

Dreaming, The Second One

When we last met our heroine, she was all giggles and happy sighs because two fantastic things had happened – one, she had a piece published in Writer’s Digest, and two, she found a galley that not only did not make her want to gouge her eyes out with a blunt instrument, she loved so much she wanted to promote it. And give it away. All caught up now?

So here, you get part 2 of my interview with Olivia R. Burton, author of the decidedly awesome Mixed Feelings.

Me: If you could have a super-power, what would it be? What power would you NOT want to have?

Olivia: I’m always torn on this question when it’s not multiple choice! I would love something that lets me be more efficient at life, like stopping time or the ability to teleport, but I’d also adore a fun power like being able to talk to and understand animals. My cat Martin and I already have long conversations, but they’d definitely be more interesting if he could meow words other than, “NO!”

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Having Rogue’s life-draining superpower would be pretty unfortunate, as it would make sex all but impossible. Having a superpower like Gwen’s wouldn’t be that great, either, if you didn’t know how to control it. In one of my other series set in the same world, we meet an empath who knows how to utilize the power and it’s quite a boon. Gwen is pretty passive in her empathy at the start of the series, however, and it uses her more than she uses it.

Me: What advice would you give to readers who hope to publish their own books one day?

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Olivia: Take criticism, but know your audience. I’ve had a lot of writer friends who want lots of people to read and give input on their books, but I think they overextend. I don’t like high fantasy, so having me read your epic Tolkein-esque adventure tome isn’t going to do either of us any good. If you write technical sci-fi, find your friends who like that sort of thing and get their thoughts. Listen to their input, and evaluate your work honestly, but don’t lose confidence in what you’ve written if they have a lot of criticism. A few mistakes don’t mean your work is crap, it just means it could be better.

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Always be willing to give back, too. Don’t just expect others to read your stuff if you’re not willing to help them better their craft as well.

Me: Gwen likes sweets of all kinds, and yet I am not sure she has ever had a MoonPie. Do you have something against them, or have you not gotten around to writing them yet?

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Olivia: I’ve heard of MoonPies, but I wonder if they’re regional, as I don’t think I’ve ever seen one here on the West Coast. I have nothing against them, I just haven’t gotten the chance to feed them to Gwen. From my light and recent research into what they are, I can promise you Gwen would be all too eager to stuff them into her face.

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Rest assured, were she real, she would fight you for the last one in a bin. Whether she wins or not would depend on if you have fighting experience and if you are smart enough to distract her with another sugary treat. You could probably just chuck a Tootstie Roll and go, “Fetch!” and the MoonPie would be yours.

***

Now, who wants to win their own copy of Mixed Feelings? Just click here to visit Candlemark&Gleam where the lovely Rafflecopter is set up just for you! The only reason you log in with your email is so that we know how to contact you if you win! So easy! No salesmen come calling.  Would you rather buy it? No problem! It’s only $5 right there on Candlemark&Gleam’s site!

Batman says enter to win! Look into his startling blue eyes and feel the fear dissipate. Enter to win. Enter to wiiiiinnnnn!

Batman says enter to win! Look into his startling blue eyes and feel the fear dissipate. Enter to win. Enter to wiiiiinnnnn!

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***I do apologize for the formatting this morning. Word and WordPress don’t play nicely together.

The One In Which I Live My Dream

Sometimes dreams come true. Last week, I was lucky enough to see one of my wishes come to fruition. No, I can’t fly, I am sorry to say. Still working on that one. I think I went overboard on the eye of newt. Anyway, last week, I got the opportunity to interview The Next Big Thing. Ever wish you had the chance the meet Paul McCartney or Ernest Hemingway before they were who they were? Me. I did that. Not Paul McCartney, of course. How old do you think I am? Last week, I got to interview Olivia R. Burton. Remember her from this post?

So we sat down over a soy latte (or email, because modern times), and I got to know her a little better.

 

Me: At what point did you know you wanted to be a writer?

ORB: I don’t know the exact point, but I know I used to hole up in a little TV cabinet as a teenager and write (awful) fanfiction for Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. For the record, I hope every handmade notebook I wrote in has since been burned and scattered to the four corners of the earth. My first foray into original writing was in middle school when I read Christopher Pike’s The Last Vampire. I say “original” loosely, since the story I wrote was very derivative and basically just self-insert fanfic of the book.

Me: The idea of a self-centered empath is so outside the proverbial box. How did you come up with it?

ORB: The short answer is that I wanted her to be awful. I’ve read so much Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy where the main character is a dippy, selfish brat, but the side characters refuse to acknowledge it. That made me so frustrated! I think a story is much more interesting when the main character has a lot stopping him or her from sailing through the plot with ease.

I took my customer service experience into account as I looked at how her empathy would affect the person she is. Sure, there are sad people in the world and a good person who felt that sadness as their own would want to help, but sadness and happiness aren’t the only emotions in the world. Think about how irate you get sitting in traffic. Now think how Gwen feels sitting crammed on a stopped freeway within empathic range of a dozen or so grumpy drivers who don’t want to go to work or who can’t wait to get home. Think how she feels standing in a long bathroom line. Consider how her empathy would function at the mall around the holidays.

Is it any wonder she’s chosen to be a recluses who wants nothing more than to sit at home self-soothing with cupcakes and soda that turns her tongue purple?

I wanted Gwen to be her own worst enemy and for everyone around her to see her for what she is. She does go through a fair amount of character development and, while she remains a greedy coward at heart, she learns through the main arc of her series how to overcome her own shortcomings enough to help when problems arise. She never becomes as useful as Chloe or Mel, but Book Six is the absolute last time she hides under her desk because she doesn’t want to take a client meeting, I promise.

Stay tuned for part II of this fun interview in an upcoming post. And stay tuned to win. Wait a minute! Hold the phones! Did I say stay tuned to win?

I have right here a little Rafflecopter, put together and managed by the illustrious Kate Sullivan at Candlemark&Gleam. She’s offering cool prizes ( and she’s even in charge of sending them out. No waiting for the weather to change for me to get them out by owl post. We’re talking, QUICK RETURN! There are so many ways to enter – 17 in all. What are you waiting for?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

This link takes you to Candlemark&Gleam’s wonderful website where the actual Rafflecopter entry is waiting for you. Click it, log in with your email, and go! Enter! The giveaway will run until November 18. Let’s get the word out about this up-and-comer fast!

Print copies are only available to those in the continental US, but the ebooks are for everyone, anywhere in the world! You know you want it!

And want to know something totally rocking? Another dream of mine came true last week. I had a guest post over at Writer’s Digest!

Sometimes You Win

I read a lot of galleys. A lot of them. My dream is to discover the next big thing before they’re actually, you know, the next big thing. Everybody loves to have a good “I knew them when” story. Sometimes it doesn’t work out.  I’ve been in a reading slump for longer than I care to think about. For weeks, book after book has failed to live up to the promise of its blurb, prompting a policy to never read another book that compares itself to Indiana Jones and this email to a friend:

My literary pet peeves:

Overuse of passive voice

First-person present POV

Telling, telling, telling. More telling.

Totally unnecessary details

Endless exposition before finally starting the story.

Trying to emulate another author

Boring, pointless plot
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Then I got an email from Candlemark & Gleam. I love this publisher. C&G is responsible for bringing Justin Robinson into my life. I trust these folks with my reading time. It wasn’t just any email, either. It was the announcement of an upcoming book. From a new author.  With a link to the galley. A debut novel backed by Candlemark & Gleam? Yes, please.

How delicious is this cover? And the book is just as good!

How delicious is this cover? And the book is just as good!

I work two jobs, six days a week. It’s safe to say that when I began reading Olivia R. Burton’s Mixed Feelings, I didn’t have a lot of  free time. I made the time. I read in the car line at Squish’s school, in bed at night far later than I should have. On one occasion, I nearly maimed a co-worker because he wouldn’t stop talking while I was trying to read the last fifteen pages on my lunch hour.

From the moment I began reading, I was charmed. Gwen, the protagonist, is so far from perfect that she could be me. She’s an empath like no other – she’s self-centered, and more than a little lazy. She’s a therapist by trade, but more because it’s the easy route  than because she cares  about people. She’s so real I think I may have gone to high school with her.

She learns from two terrifying faeries about the abduction of several children, and isn’t overly concerned. That these faeries also mistake her for the emissary of some powerful and mysterious mistress doesn’t bug her much, either. When someone steals her birthday cupcakes, however,  Gwen is finally stirred to action.

Burton is a wonderful storyteller. The pacing is pitch-perfect. The book is neither so fast-paced that it’s confusing nor so cliched that it’s predictable. It’s a fun ride. The characters are believable, and there’s no end of surprises in store. No spoilers or anything, but Go, Chloe!  Like, seriously. And the author avoids the info-dumps so common in the genre. Her world and back story unfold very organically.

The book is not perfect. Gwen’s appetite for sweets and Mel’s appetite for the ladies (I do so want to learn in future books that he’s a virgin!) are a little over-the-top. But the writing is so solid that the flaws are forgivable. In a world of authors who take themselves and their stories way too seriously, Mixed Feelings is a fun read. I give it a solid four stars. I visited the author’s website and learned she has many books planned and even written that take place in this same world. That is a whole lot of happy in one place.

The release date for Mixed Feelings is fast approaching. November 11, friends. That’s next week! Yippee! I love this book so much, I’m going to buy it. Friends, there is no higher praise.

Sound like a book you’d like to read? I encourage you to give it a whirl. In a couple of days, I just might make that really easy for someone. Stay tuned! Get in on the ground floor, here. You’ll be able to say you knew Olivia R. Burton when. This girl is going places!

 

The One In Which I Confess

I could have, and I should have, and I would have. I really would have. But I didn’t. There. Now you know. I did not like Game of Thrones.

I wanted to. I have been looking for a new series to dive into, and Game of Thrones was primed to fit the bill. When I finish a book I love, there is nothing better than the knowledge that there’s another one waiting right there in the wings, another opportunity to immerse myself in that world and meet the characters I have come to love. I’m not just looking for a good read, I crave all the trappings of a rabid fandom, too. I want to type on message boards in the middle of the night, attend midnight book releases where I may or may not show up in costume.

Trelawney. Don't say you're not jealous.

Trelawney. Don’t say you’re not jealous.

I want the whole enchilada. All of it. Game of Thrones was my next hope. Several books to read? Check. More to come? Check, check. Fans out the wazoo? Triple check. So I gave it a go. And then a second go. And now I’m done.

Why didn’t I love it? I wanted to. I really did. But this series has more flaws than I can overlook, not the least of which is an insufferable author who has as little respect for his fandom as he does for the characters he writes. When an author laughs scathingly and says he should make them wait 20 years for the next book, I lose a little interest. But it’s about more than the author.

Martin writes cardboard characters. I guess he has to because he’s going to kill all of them, but it’s hard for me to engage with one-note wonders. I hate spoilers. Hate them. I don’t even read blurbs on dust jackets. But when I finally gave up on this series, I collected spoilers from lots of sources. Turns out, some of the characters are not as one-dimensional as they seem at first. And I might have even liked them eventually. But it shouldn’t take an author 1500 pages to show me. What if Han Solo and Greedo had dropped their breadcrumbs 10 lightyears apart when they made their trail in the woods? Their dad would never have found them. Wait. Back up. Hansel and Gretel. There we go. When it takes too long to develop characters, I get really bored.

I don’t have to like all of the characters to enjoy a book. ***Spoiler*** Draco Malfoy was an irritating prat for five-and-a-half books in the Harry Potter series. BUT he was a great foil for the protagonists. His interactions with the other characters evoked something, be it laughter or outrage. He made me feel something. Heck, I don’t even have to like the protagonist to enjoy a book. I could not STAND Lincoln in Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments. He was a spineless little clownfish. Every time he looked out into the world and appeared like he was about to mature a little and stand on his own , he’d dart right back into that anemone. I did not like him. You know why? Because I know people just like him! He was a real person. He made me angry. He evoked emotion. By and large, Martin’s characters don’t.

Yep, this is Lincoln. Will I ask her out? No. I'm gonna move out... Nah... Photo credit amazonaws.com

Yep, this is Lincoln. Will I ask her out? No. I’m gonna move out… Nah… Photo credit amazonaws.com

There are too many characters, as well. There were four characters whose story-lines I kind of wanted to follow. That sounds like a lot, right? But they represented less than 10% of the population of the first book. I didn’t even encounter many of them in the second book, or their chapters weren’t big enough to matter. I tried skipping the characters I was bored by and just reading the ones I liked, but that meant skipping the majority of Clash of Kings. Too much work.

There’s almost no subtlety. Martin’s bad guys are mustache-twirling evil dudes. They’ll tie that damsel-in-distress right to those railroad tracks. But there’s no hero, either. Not only will the train run her the heck over, it will cut her into three equal pieces, and it will take her two weeks to die. Wow. Didn’t see that coming. Not the first three times, anyway. Eventually it becomes predictable. Imagine the very worst thing that can happen to a character. Then multiply it by five, and you’ve got Martin’s plot-line. Basket of puppies? Don’t look now, but those puppies are going to get put in purses and carried around by rich ladies. Poor, poor dogs. Are there little babies? No, not the babies! Is nothing sacred? Martin would write them having to watch six hours of Baby Einstein before being fed M&Ms and getting dropped back off with mom and dad. There’s your plot twist. You thought it was the kids who were being punished, didn’t you?

There were good parts. I loved the Others. I couldn’t wait for them to take over the whole world, actually. I liked Dany. Her storyline in the first book was the best part. She was the one character that was truly developed, and I was taken by surprise by how things turned out with Khal Drogo. I wanted to like the dire wolves. I hear they were pretty awesome later on, or at least had a great story. But again, there was too little of any of these to keep me engaged. If anybody wants to email me the story of the wolves or what happens with Dany, I’m game. I am just not invested enough to find out for myself.

What series do you absolutely love? I’m up for something new.

Of Cookies and Books

Ever bake something amazing from scratch? Something so good, so rich, so satisfying that you can’t wait to try it again, but the next time you tweak the recipe to try to make it just a little bit better. Sometimes it works, and you produce the most deliciously gooey double chocolate chip cookies, but other times, you’re left with a pile of dried out, brittle briquettes are more suitable for acts of vandalism than human consumption. Books are like baking.

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When I come across a story I love, it’s natural to want more, but sequels are a risk. Sequels change the story, for better or for worse. At its best, a sequel strengthens our relationship with a character and gives the author an opportunity to explore and develop larger plotlines. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is a great example. But a poorly written sequel has the power to turn readers away from a burgeoning series, and even characters they love forever. Jan Karon’s Father Tim series falls into this category for me, and Jim Butcher is headed down that path with his Dresden Files. Sometimes it’s better to stop while you’re ahead.

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When I was offered an ARC of the sequel to Justin Robinson’s Mr. Blank to review, I didn’t hesitate. I loved the first book so much. It was fast-paced and hilarious, and Robinson’s writing style is so engaging I had to quit trying to find quotes from his work to fit the title because every time I try to find one, I get carried off in the story again. I was eager to read it, but I did have to wonder if he could do it again. Just in case you’re wondering, he can, and he did. And you wanna hear something really crazy? Get Blank is even better than the original.

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It will come as no surprise to some of you that I am not always the sharpest crayon in the box, and it’s not hard for me to get lost among the twists and turns of a gumshoe novel. I’ll be the first to admit that I got tangled up a few times in Mr. Blank, but Robinson deftly set me back on the path every, single time. I never stayed lost for very long. This time around, I had no trouble at all in keeping up, and I could see where I was being led without anyone spelling it out for me. That is not to say the ending is predictable. It is not. But I could connect the dots on the significance of each event this time all by my own self.

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Robinson knows how to develop his characters. Even when they aren’t human, even when they’re pretty much identical to every other one of their species, Robinson manages to make them stand out, to make me care about them. And maybe even cry over them.

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The book isn’t perfect. The resolution was a bit abrupt, and the pursuit of the identity of “Mr. Blank,” the thread that ties this book to its predecessor and is the premise of the series is weak. But the writing is so solid, the story at hand so well developed that I look forward to other opportunities to revisit this world. And while it is a sequel, Get Blank really does stand on its own two feet.

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I devoured this book in a weekend, in one fabulous, children-raise-yourselves-because-Mommy’s-not-putting-this-book-down kind of weekend. It’s urban fantasy, it’s noir, it’s bizarre, it’s a delight. I give it 4.5 stars. I haven’t given an ARC a rating that high in a long time. It was my pleasure to do so this time.

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Want to win it? You know you do!  There are two ways to enter. I recommend both! Go here to learn about and participate in tomorrow night’s drinkalong. Go here to the contest’s main page.

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And what goes better with books than cookies? Nothing. Here’s the recipe for the double choco-chip cookies I made to eat while I read Get Blank. I futzed with the recipe so you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

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2 C bread flour
½ C cocoa powder, unsweetened
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks salted butter, softened (not melted)
1 ½ granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

 

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Preheat oven to 375F. Combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In large bowl beat butter and sugar on high for 1 minute. Add vanilla. Beat to blend. Add eggs one at a time, beating for one minute between each. Slowly add dry ingredients to butter mixture and beat. Batter will be thick. Add the chocolate chips and mix until evenly distributed.

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Place batter on ungreased baking sheet in heaping teaspoonsful. Bake for 9 minutes. Remove from oven, allow to cool for 1 minute, then remove cookies to a wire baking rack.

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Makes: not nearly enough

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Now, make some cookies and read this book. It’s my top pick for summer reads. And don’t forget to click here to vote for my zoo to win $5K. Comment on yesterday’s post to let me know you voted.

Second Chances

If I have said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. Life is too short to read bad books. But sometimes the parting of the ways comes not through any fault of the book itself. This year I decided to give A Game of Thrones another go.

I started reading it a couple of years ago, I guess. It was the first library loan on my brand new Kindle Fire. If you look at my top pages and posts on any given day, you will likely see how that particular relationship ended. Long story short, I sent back the device before I finished the book.

I was content to live Throneless for the rest of my days, but the universe has ways of changing our minds. It started with discovering A Clash of Kings at the Friends of the Library book sale. Hard cover, good used condition, $2. Then over the course of the year, I found three others in the series at thrift stores. A near-complete series cost me just over three bucks. The universe wins again. I found a copy of book one (at the used bookstore, and guess who had trade credit?) and a few days ago, I sat down to read.

My original thought was that the world Martin built is more memorable than the characters themselves. My second thought was that A Game of Thrones is possibly the worst book to read during the polar vortex. I’m cold. So cold. Winter is coming? Whatever, Starks. I’ve got news. Winter is already here. I hate Catelyn already, what with her nice hot water steaming through the walls, and all I’ve got is this stupid rice sock. The snow is going to pile deeper still, and we’ll never get out, and I’m almost out of milk! WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE! Wait. Where was I?

In the first ten pages, I was drawn into the story. I could not remember why I was able to put this book aside so easily. Oh, yeah! There it is! Now I remember! In a world with thirty main characters, it makes sense to give some of them the same name. And how’s about we toss in a nickname or three? Eddard? Sometimes we’ll call him Ned, even when the chapter header refers to him by his formal name.How about Robert and Robert and Robb. And let’s toss in a Brandon, a Bran or two and maybe some oats for fiber. I’m waiting for a Jehoshaphat to pop up somewhere. I’m just gonna call him Steve.

I’m struggling as well with the line between fantasy and reality. Newborn dire wolf pup that licks someone’s face? I’m not overly familiar with the species since they went extinct about 10,000 years ago, so maybe it was possible. No, it’s not. I’m more ready to believe that fossilized dragon eggs come to life than I am that five spoiled children have the ability to train pet wolves to advanced levels. I’ve actually trained a dog or five. There’s only so much reality I can suspend. Fantasy I can deal with; schoolgirl fantasy I cannot.

I’m hung up in the nitpicky things. Because it’s cold, and I’m grouchy, and it’s cold. But I’ll keep reading. The universe says I must. I still have hopes for it. Maybe. Except for the fact that Martin hates both his readers and his characters.

Have you ever given a book a second chance? Did it end well? I’m pretty sure this one’s not going to end well. I’ve read the jokes. “Why isn’t George R.R. Martin on Twitter? He’s already killed all 140 characters.” But I’m in, at least for now. Worst case scenario, I hate the series and resell them at the used bookstore to buy Harry Potter action figures with my windfall. Best case scenario, I find a new favorite series and languish in agony until the 6th book comes out. I’m hoping for the latter. I never pick up a book without hoping it will become my new best friend.