Thursday, September 4, 2014

August Reading Wrap Up 2014

I only read three books in August but two of them were quite long. Combine that with our first month of homeschooling and I think I did pretty well!

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon - People have been recommending the Outlander series to me for years now but I just got around to starting it. I had been putting it off in part because the books are so large. Also I just didn't know enough about the series to have any idea if I would enjoy it. When I won a copy of Outlander from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program, I knew it was time to give the series a try. Although I still have no desire to see the new television series based on the novels, I did enjoy the book and will keep reading the series. I was put off somewhat by the numerous sex scenes throughout the book and their graphic nature but the story, characters, and setting compelled me to keep reading.

Fly Away by Kristin Hannah - This is the sequel to Firefly Lane which I read earlier this summer. This is the story of Tully's life after Kate passes away. Can she repair any of the damage she has done in her relationships with Kate's family? While this story captured me, it was in a different way than Firefly Lane had. The majority of the book is spent in Tully's memories allowing her to gain a new perspective on events. Kate's family must also remember and reinterpret events to have any hope of mending their own broken relationships. I felt this book brought Kate and Tully's story to a very satisfying conclusion.

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls - This book is described as a "true life novel" because the main character, Lily Casey Smith was the grandmother of the author. Much of the novel is her actual life experiences with the details made up to fill in the gaps. This was the shortest book I read in August and I loved that most chapters were only a few pages long. This made the book easy to put down when I needed to turn my attention to other things. I gained a new respect for life on the ranch and loved Lily's determination to make her own life when all the odds seemed stacked against her. Half Broke Horses was a quick and interesting novel.

Currently Reading: Otherworld Nights by Kelley Armstrong (October 2014) - the first of three books containing short stories and novellas set in the Otherworld.

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Visions (A Cainsville Novel) by Kelley Armstrong

If you read my review of Omens, the first Cainsville novel, you will know that I wasn't convinced I would enjoy this series by Kelley Armstrong when I began reading. By the time I finished Omens, I was completely drawn into the world of Olivia Taylor-Jones, Gabriel Walsh, and the mysterious town of Cainsville. I hated that I had to wait an entire year for the next book in the series, Visions.

Was Visions worth the wait? Absolutely!

Although Olivia didn't make headway in discovering the truth about whether her parents committed the murders for which they were convicted, she does discover more about her connection to Cainsville and it's residents. She and Gabriel are pushed together through a number of sinister events even as Olivia begins dating one of Gabriel's clients. Olivia and Gabriel finally start asking questions and getting a few answers, although the answers are often vague or incomplete. There are still many, many questions ahead for Olivia and Gabriel and, once again, I'm left waiting for the next book in the series so I can find out more.

In the Cainsville series, Armstrong writes complex characters, places them in a unique setting, and leaves them to find answers about themselves and the town. I have the feeling each book will reveal just enough of the story and leave just enough questions to keep readers coming back for more.

Order Visions on Amazon

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Summer Reading Wrap Up 2014

Summer has rushed by this year. The oldest finished preschool in May and starts kindergarten on Monday. We were able to spend two weeks visiting family and relaxing. We also visited some new places around town. All that travel and having both girls home all day, everyday, meant a bit less time for reading but I still managed to read eight books in June and July.

The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness - The final book in the All Souls Trilogy wrapped up the story of Diana, a witch, and Matthew, a vampire, very nicely. I thought the story got a bit off track in the second book but Harkness was able to weave connections from that book into this one to create a meaningful context. This trilogy has wonderful characters, great detail in settings and time periods, and social and political conflict wrapped in the realms of science and magic. If you haven't read the first two books in the trilogy yet start with A Discovery of Witches and just keep reading!

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero (advance copy received from Amazon Vine) - This was a unique story told in a variety of formats from letters and journal entries to audio and video transcripts. The format makes it easy to read the book in small sections. The mystery is suitably creepy and interesting and the end came with a twist I certainly did not see coming.

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah - This is a book that has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time but I never seemed to be in the mood to read it. As is often the case, I'm happy that I finally picked it up because it was a wonderful story of friendship over the years. Tully and Kate weather many different storms together but can they survive Tully's rise to stardom? Once I started Firefly Lane I didn't want to put it down. I didn't realize that there was more to the story but now I've discovered Fly Away and I want to read that too.

Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman - I have no interest in watching the series of the same name on Netflix but I read an article referencing the book and decided to get it from the library. I enjoyed the story in part because Kerman keeps events in chronological order without the time skipping often found in memoirs to relate previous events to present circumstances. Kerman was fairly matter of fact about her whole ordeal, however the book lacked depth for me.

Skin Game by Jim Butcher - The fifteenth book in the Dresden Files finds Harry in over his head as Mab uses him in his role of her Winter Knight. As usual, Harry is only told the bare minimum and has to dig deeply under the surface to understand all the political maneuverings happening around him. In this book Harry also comes face to face with many personal problems that impact his ability to carry out his orders. Harry is one of my favorite fictional characters and I'm always waiting for the next book in the series because Butcher delivers consistently entertaining stories.

Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow - This interesting book tells the story of Julie Katz who has an unusual conception and is thought to be the Daughter of God by her father. Julie struggles with temptations from the Devil, performs the occasional long-distance miracle, and faces persecution from those awaiting the events of Revelation. The horror of mankind's ability to condemn one another is examined along with other issues of faith.

Tales of the Hidden World by Simon R. Green (advance copy from Amazon Vine, available now) - I actually had my husband read this book first because the only Simon R. Green books I've read are the Secret Histories novels and I was unsure if the short stories in this book would tie into any of his other novels. The good news is that this book can be read completely as a stand alone collection of stories. While the first story does connect to the Secret Histories novels it is not necessary to have read them to understand the story. Many of these stories are actually older works that were published early in Green's career. This does show in that the stories seem underdeveloped compared to his current writings. Some of the characters and settings are intriguing but the stories contained in this book are simply not long enough to capitalize on this potential.

I also read Visions (A Cainsville Novel) by Kelley Armstrong (early finished copy received from publicist) and will be writing another post with that review.

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Monday, July 28, 2014

The Dark Horse: Hazards of Being a Writer - Alison DeLuca

Books are vampires, some of them – they bite into you and don’t let go. Like a vampyr’s victim, the reader is changed forever.

It’s even worse when the urge to write takes hold. It is a fever that produces visions, ones that are so strong that at times they feel like reality. It can be a form of madness.

An author must be strong, must learn to live in two worlds at once. When the characters are talking and the scene plays out in the author’s head, as she listens to those voices and sees what happens to people who are, to her, completely real – when the real world intervenes, she must learn to silence the other, the unseen universe.

Of course the most important thing in the world is one’s family – children, husband, parents. Yet, when the writer is on a roll, riding that dark horse called fantasy as the movie plays out in her head, when the real world calls, she must rein in the steed and dismount.

In order to control those two warring, concurrent universes, the writer must have system – a plan. Writing needs to be in one room, real life in another. (Jane Austen was so conscious of this that she used to hide what she wrote under a piece of paper, kept on hand at all times, should anyone enter the room.)

The escape and the visions are scheduled for certain times – in the morning in my case, for others, at the dead of night. The visions themselves are outlined, or planned in careful notes, with painstaking research, all to create a map for the wild regions known as the Right Side of the Brain.

I don’t know why some people have that key to the stables, to ride the dark horse. In my case, perhaps it came from a childhood without much television, where my sister and I entertained ourselves with our own made up stories. As we sat in absolute silence in endless, formal teas, we formed the ability to see within, to watch an interior movie that no one else could see.

There are many hazards of being a writer – deadlines, editors, publishers, and social media. For me, however, the greatest pleasure in being an author is also my greatest hazard – that of harnessing the dark horse.

About the Author:  Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books. She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

Connect with Alison DeLuca

See all books by Alison DeLuca on Amazon

About The Crown Phoenix Series:  An underground factory, a terrifying laboratory, and an Edwardian hospital…

Miriam has only her guardians' son for company, and she and Simon dislike each other from the start. But they must find a way to trust each other, or they will end up on the sinister Night Watchman Express.

Target audience: Twelve and up.

Genres: Steampunk, Edwardian fiction, YA fantasy

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Thursday, July 17, 2014

RJ Sullivan: "Profound" language and the storyteller's quandary

Haunting Blue is the story of a 17 year old punk girl who attends a small town high school. Prior to that, "Blue" hung out with college-age students for several years. As a result of her upbringing, she expresses herself with blunt, direct language. Like any other high school rebel, Blue is an angry person. She feels justified in that anger, picked upon, and she responds to the world aggressively--in words and deeds.

Although it has been quite a few years since I've walked the halls of my high school with anyone I could call my peers, I still remember the constant ambiance of four-letter words. Even if you did not use such words yourself, you couldn't avoid hearing a variety of--to use Mr. Spock's vernacular--"colorful metaphors." As everything else in high school--from bullying to music to styles--has slanted toward the extreme, I've no doubt that this trend has gone the same direction.

So when drafting my novel, I let Blue to talk the way she would talk. This was not about shock value, or, as a common accusation goes, to try to be "cool" or trendy in order to sell books. This was about letting Blue behave as Blue, and saying exactly what's on her mind.

Still, there is another side, a certain reader who prefers not to read a book full of four-letter words, and to them, I always say, "this book is not for you." I hate having to say that, because any author who wants to have any hope of success does not turn down a sale on purpose if they can help it. But neither do I want to alienate a new reader by not disclosing this important part of the book.

And I get it. I'm a parent with children. My two oldest are not, in my own estimation..."quite" ... ready to read my books. But they will be, sooner than later. And that's okay. Yes, you are reading this right--my own children have not yet read my major novels. And if I were a potential customer on the other side of the booth, I would not buy the book for my kids. (Maybe for myself, but not my kids.)

Because I am a parent, I made a number of conscious choices in my marketing to make certain that anyone who considers buying Haunting Blue knows what they are getting. The first words on the back cover read "Punk, blue-haired 'Blue' Shaefer is at odds with her workahaulic mother." Immediately, the potential reader knows this isn't Snow White.

My novel, and my series, is filed under adult paranormal thrillers, and the front cover of Haunting Blue with the demonic blue eyes on the pirate is meant to give younger readers and their parents pause. As a product, my series is not filed under YA, even though the category is "hot" and the character is a high school girl.

The book trailer was created specially to drive this point home. I've been asked, frequently, why I have dialog in the trailer, and why do I have "bleeped out words" that censor the language. A book trailer is meant to give a potential buyer an idea about the book. Ideally, it draws the reader to want to find out what they can expect before they buy the book. Anyone who sees my trailer knows how Blue talks in that scene, and can presume (correctly) that the novel offers more of the same.

Still, all three of my novels get the occasional lower rated review by some reader who is put off by the language or the content.

To those readers, I offer three thoughts. First, the vulgarity and delinquent actions that Blue exhibits come from an honest place. Every word, every action, was a choice I made to be as true to the actions and words of the character as I believe she would behave. Rebecca Burton, my paranormal investigator professional, does not exhibit any of these traits. 2. I've come to accept that certain stories I write will not be for everyone. I have to target a specific demographic and seek out the reader of the stories that I want to tell. When the book ends up outside that demographic, that is my failure, not yours. To those put off by the content, I don't apologize for the content, but I do apologize that my marketing did not make the content clear. 3. That's not to say I don't have anything for a more general reader. My Red Lotus space opera ebooks are written with a more general audience in mind. Not because I was aiming for a different demographic, but because the truth of the story happens to make it more palatable to a wider audience.

Could I have rewritten my stories to lessen or eliminate the profanity? I suppose so. And many very good writers are able to do so. But I faced a choice many storytellers face, and I chose to hold a magnifying glass up to imperfect people and show them, warts and all. I think they're still likeable in spite of their flaws.

I understand the dilemma of a sensitive genre reader trying to make wise choices and find fiction that appeals to them. I don/'t hold those choices against them. Just consider that the storyteller faced their own dilemma, and simply made a choice that doesn't appeal to you. And that's okay.

Haunting Blue Book Synopsis: Punk, blue-haired “Blue” Shaefer, is at odds with her workaholic single mother. Raised as a city girl in a suburb of Indianapolis, Blue must abandon the life she knows when her unfeeling mother moves them to a dreadful small town. Blue befriends the only student willing to talk to her: computer nerd “Chip” Farren.

Chip knows the connection between the rickety pirate boat ride at the local amusement park and the missing money from an infamous bank heist the townspeople still talk about. When Blue helps him recover the treasure, they awaken a vengeful ghost who’ll stop at nothing--not even murder--to prevent them from exposing the truth behind his evil deeds.

Haunting Blue is Book One of the Adventures of Blue Shaefer

Purchase Haunting Blue from Amazon for Kindle or Paperback

About RJ Sullivan: Haunting Blue is the first book of the adventures of punk girl Fiona “Blue” Shaefer. This is the 2014 revised edition by Seventh Star Press. Seventh Star also released Haunting Obsession, a Rebecca Burton Novella, and Virtual Blue, the second book in Fiona’s tale. R.J.’s short stories have been featured in such acclaimed collections as Dark Faith: Invocations by Apex Books and Vampires Don’t Sparkle. His newest project is the Red Lotus series of science fiction novelettes.

R.J. resides in Heartland Crossing, Indiana. He drinks coffee from a Little Mermaid mug and is man enough to admit it.

Connect with RJ: Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads

Find more books on the Amazon author page for RJ Sullivan

Amazon Affiliate Links are used within this post. That means when you click through and purchase something (anything!) from Amazon I earn a *small* percentage of the sale. It never costs you any extra but it helps me keep this site running.