Missing That Last Oxer: A Review

horses, review, Learning to Fall, Anne Clermont

Beautiful cover, and you know how much I love to judge a book by its cover!

I don’t remember how I found Learning to Fall by Anne Clermont. BookBub, or Kobo Daily Deals?  Either way, it cost something like a buck. I’m a cheapskate, but I hold dear the principle that life is too short to read bad books, so I looked it up. It got some decent reviews on Amazon, so I decided to give it a go.

Learning to Fall is the story of Brynn, a 23-year-old vet student whose father dreams of her becoming a serious competitor in the world of show jumping. Following his tragic death, the truth about her father’s finances is revealed. The training barn he owned and loved is swimming in debt. Where do her loyalties lie – to her father’s memory or to her own dreams of becoming a veterinarian?

The good: The author has potential. A great deal of it. I didn’t have to force myself to finish the book, which doesn’t always happen even with Big Six (or is it Five now?) novels. The premise of the book is interesting, a peek into the world of show jumping is intriguing, and the protagonist is humanly flawed, and therefore believable. The novel held a touch of nostalgia for me and made me miss the days when the Girl-child had her own horse. The relationship between horse and rider was tender, and the author reveals an intimate knowledge of this world.

horse, review, book

Yeah. No saddle, no bridle. I think the kid could carry the horse just as easily.

The not-so-good: there is such a thing between knowing a world too well. There were few examples of the dreaded info-dump. Sometimes, though, I would have been a little lost if I hadn’t grown up watching show jumping on television. There are even a couple of things that I am still unclear on. “Rapping,” or hitting a horse in the leg with a pole to get them to jump higher is bad, but the author indicates the damage to the horse is psychological. I don’t know why except that she told me it’s bad. Why should a rider have been disqualified from a round for hitting the horse four times with a crop at a jump? I don’t know.  I would like to, though. I wanted to read the book because I am nosy and want to know all the secrets.

Clermont skips parts, too. Important parts. We rarely get a glimpse of Brynn’s first round at a show, just the jump-offs, so a real opportunity to build tension and naturally fill in backstory is missed. Is it easy to get to the jump-offs? It certainly seems so because Clermont doesn’t feel the need to show us how we got there.

The copy-editing needs some work. Make sure you’re using the right form of the verb, and make sure that verb agrees with the subject. Editing isn’t terrible in this book, but the biggest demarcation between indie and mainstream publishing comes down to editing and attention to detail.

The downright frustrating: the villains are poorly-developed. Their dialog is clumsy and predictable, and the last dramatic encounter left me rolling my eyes so hard that I may have sprained them. In the last 5% of the book, I actually set down my e-reader none too gently and said “Oh, come on!” Had I not been so close to the end, I may have quit right then and there.

The story is rather predictable, as well. Predictability isn’t always a deal-breaker because comfort reads are a favorite category of mine. But I knew how it would end, mostly. The stakes are high, and the author reminds us of those stakes when she remembers to do so, as if she forgets and thinks we have, too. But the reader knows what is on the line. She needs to trust her reader the way the rider trusts the horse. We’ve been over it a dozen times. We know.

The inclusion of yoga is flat-out weird and out of place, but with a little reworking, another draft, it could have felt natural. Take us there. Don’t just tell me that Brynn did yoga. If it’s important enough to mention, it’s important enough to fully develop.

What would make it better – another draft. Tweak those characters. Flesh them out. Make the dramatic scenes less cluttered and more concise. Less running and yelling. More show, less tell, which is the trickiest bit of this writing gig. Build the drama naturally instead of telling me there’s drama. Polish the editing, be ruthless with the dialog. No backstory info dumps on characters.

Overall, the book was okay. I give it three stars. I finished it, and I don’t feel like I totally wasted my dollar. I might even re-read parts of it again. It was a quick read, too, so flaws are more forgivable. But with another draft, it could easily become a favorite horsey story.

What books do you recommend from 2016? New books, old books, new-to-you books?

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Things I Would Rather Do Than Re-Watch “Secret Life of Pets”

I took Squish to see “The Secret Life of Pets” because I apparently I didn’t learn anything from the whole “Finding Dory” fiasco.

Ravenclaw says save your money. Watch a kitten with a laser pointer instead. She's a harsh critic.

Ravenclaw says save your money. Watch a kitten with a laser pointer instead. She’s a harsh critic.

Things I would rather do than re-watch “The Secret Life of Pets”

  • Scratch my poison ivy (actually, this one is kind of cheating because scratching poison ivy is awesome. At least for the first week).
  • Take a bubble bath with a cat.
  • Read Game of Thrones.
  • Pick my nose.
  • Pick a stranger’s nose.
  • Play Roulette blindfolded with five cups of lemonade and a cup of cat pee.
  • Watch full coverage of the Republican National Convention without a bathroom break. While drinking cat pee.
  • Redecorate my house in Early Hairball.
  • Write an entire blog post with Alpha-Bits cereal.
  • Watch colonoscopy videos in 4-D.
  • Live out the recurring nightmare of walking down the hallway of my high school naked.
  • Misuse punctuation.
  • Listen to “Achy Breaky Heart” scratched out by fingernails on a chalkboard.
  • Kiss a monkey.
  • Give up eating fresh cherries for the rest of my life.
  • Give up eating MoonPies for the rest of my life. Yeah, it was that bad.

 What is the worst movie you have seen this year?

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?

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Pixel Gets a Job and a Winner

A couple of months ago I announced a giveaway for a remarkable debut novel. And then I took an unannounced break from blogging due to carpal tunnel. My bad. And then we adopted Pixel’s sister, Bellatrix, which brings the cat-count up to four. Cat food is expensive, so I decided it was time for Pixel to get a job. She decided she’d like to be a life-coach because she likes telling people what to do, so I said to myself “Self, why don’t you combine the giveaway with Pixel’s career aspirations and let HER pick the winner?” Good enough!

Now, Rafflecopter did its little job and picked three names for us. They are:

Very Bangled

Beth B.

Linda G.

Pixel’s assignment was to choose the grand prize winner. The name of each winner was written on the bottom of a different color Christmas bow – her favorite toy of all time. All she had to do was pick one up.

 

She looks ready, doesn't she?

She looks psychotic  ready, doesn’t she?

Sometimes I forget she has the work ethic if a cat.

Taking a break. Is it time for lunch?

Taking a break. Is it time for lunch?

 

10 minutes, a quart of catnip,  and endless attempts later, nothing doing. Pixel was summarily released from her contract. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care. But wait! Who is that in the wings, ready to pounce? It’s BLOSSOM! 15 years old and ready to do the job! (click to enlarge)

Very Bangled and Linda, you guys win e-copies of Mixed Feelings. Beth, you win the grand prize pack! Congratulations!

Kate from Candlemark & Gleam will be in touch via the email address you guys used to enter the drawing. Thanks for playing! And worry about Pixel. She still gets to tell me what to do.

 

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
.

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.