Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Lifeguard by James Patterson

Title: Lifeguard

Author: James Patterson

Genre: Mystery

Summary: Ned Kelly's job as a lifeguard is easy, but doesn't bring wealth like the easy heist his cousin has organized for Dr. Gachet. The heist doesn't go as planned and Ned is a wanted man.

The Take-Away: The book starts with Ned's story of the heist, meeting the love interest and the explanation of an easy heist. After everything goes wrong for Ned, including the death of the love interest, the FBI steps in and interprets the crime scene. They get it wrong. When Ned connects with Special Agent Ellie Shurtleff, he's given a chance to tell his side of things.

Ned's never a bad guy. His character warrants empathy from the start. After all, if the money is easy enough and big, who wouldn't consider breaking a few laws? But the FBI is trained to analyze and correctly piece together a crime scene. The resolution of the two "good guys" is the driving force for this novel.

Mr. Patterson always has a great story to tell, whether it's one of his series characters or a random crime.

Recommendation: Consider getting the audio version. Billy Elliot was a great reader.

Monday, February 27, 2006

The Poet and the Murderer by Simon Worrall

Title: The Poet and The Murderer

Author: Simon Worrall

Genre: Non-Fiction

Summary: A forger of Mormon documents becomes linked to the discovery of a new Emily Dickinson Poem.

The Take-Away: The undertaking of writing about Mark Hofmann's crimes and linking them to the forged poem was enormous. Besides understanding the culture of the Mormon Church and the mystery surrounding Emily Dickinson, Mr. Worrall also needed to explain the process of authenticating historical documents. This title is by no means definitive and makes assumptions that the reader is somewhat familiar with the crimes committed.

As an introduction, it worked well. The points emphasised weren't as much about the forgery of the poem, but rather the history of Mark Hofmann and his criminal career, along with the short comings of auction houses that specialize in selling priceless documents.

The information about the Mormon church was well done, but the bulk of the book focused on the forged documents that they purchased. Emily's role in the book was quite short and given a cursory and matter-of-fact treatment. The assumption was made by the author that little was known about the Mormon church and its teaching, while much was known about Emily Dickinson and her sexual orientation, writing ability and family history. Given the title, I would have expected the type of details actually given to the Mormon faith to be expended on the poet.

Recommendation: Pass if you want to know more about Emily Dickinson.

Friday, February 24, 2006

How to Blog

The 2006 Bloggies (regardless of year) are always a great spot to find something new to read. Tony Pierce ennumerates how to blog. I've listed my favorite entries below, but the whole piece is worthwhile.

2. if you think youre a good writer, write twice a day.

3. dont be afraid to do anything. infact if youre afraid of something, do it. then do it again. and again.

7. have an email address clearly displayed on your blog. sometimes people want to tell you that you rock in private.

11. say exactly what you want to say no matter what it looks like on the screen. then say something else. then keep going. and when youre done, re-read it, and edit it and hit publish and forget about it.

13. if you havent written about sex, religion, and politics in a week youre probably playing it too safe, which means you probably fucked up on #5, in which case start a second blog and keep your big mouth shut about it this time.

14. remember: nobody cares which N*Sync member you are, what State you are, which Party of Five kid you are, or which Weezer song you are. the second you put one of those things on your blog you need to delete your blog and try out for the marching band. similarilly, nobody gives a shit what the weather is like in your town, nobody wants you to change their cursor into a butterfly, nobody wants to vote on whether your blog is hot or not, and nobody gives a rat ass what song youre listening to. write something Real for you, about you, every day.

16. get Site Meter and make it available for everyone to see. if you're embarrassed that not a lot of people are clicking over to your page, dont be embarrassed by the number, be embarrassed that you actually give a crap about hits to your gay blog. it really is just a blog. and hits really dont mean anything. you want Site Meter, though, to see who is linking you so you can thank them and so you can link them back. similarilly, use Technorati, but dont obsess. write.

18. before you hit Save as Draft or Publish Post, select all and copy your masterpiece. you are using a computer and the internet, shit can happen. no need to lose a good post.

22. when in doubt review something. theres not enough reviews on blogs. review a movie you just saw, a tv show, a cd, a kiss you just got, a restaurant, a hike you just took, anything.

23. constantly write about the town that you live in.

24. out yourself. tell your secrets. you can always delete them later.

25. dont use your real name. dont write about your work unless you dont care about getting fired.

29. dont apologize about not blogging. nobody cares. just start blogging again.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Carolina Isles by Jude Deveraux

Title: Carolina Isles

Author: Jude Deveraux

Genre: Romance

Summary: A pair of look alike cousins decide to try on each others lives, to see how the other side lives.

The Take-Away: I keep reading Ms Deveraux's books, hoping that they will get better, but they don't. Her historicals beat any recent works I've read. Plot holes and characters who, when presented with a problem, say, "Oh, yes, by the way, here's how to do that. I've known it all along."

For instance, a key point in the story is that money is hidden on an island. It just so happens that it's the island that one character spent some time on as a kid as part of a summer camp. This much was mentioned and built into the story naturally. But a seemingly unconnected essay isn't mentioned until it's a vital clue to unraveling the mystery.

I have to wonder if her writing was always this bad, but re-writes and editing improved it for publication. If so, why doesn't her editor call her on the plot holes? Good dialogue will only carry a story so far.

Recommendation: Don't bother.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Let's gossip, shall we?

Gossip always makes me think of malicious intent. Whether it be for the thrill of knowing first or delight in other's misfortune, it always meant bad things to me. That really isn't my intent today, but serves as a method of introducing someone who hasn't ever made an appearance in my writing before and probably won't after.

While I don't believe the person that is the subject of discussion reads this, on the small chance he/she does, I'll assign a random name - Ed. Ed is one of the many interesting members an area writing club.

A participant and irregular attendee for as long I have been a member, Ed is one of those people that I both welcome and hate to see. His opinions are strong. His ideals are unknown. He is open to discussion and debate over any topic of interest to him.

Unfortunately, we are a writing club, not a debate club.

Ed's pieces are varied. One week might be politics, the next philosophy. One of his favorite things to do is explore the definition of a word, like patriotism or freedom.

His focus is sharp. He keeps things on track. We irritate him when discussion of his own piece or anyone else's takes longer than ten minutes. Fifteen at the most. His writing is good, but could be better. His intent isn't clear through the piece, but the discussion it invokes. I've never seen him bring something twice.

The club is open to everyone, but many of us are focused on publication and making our writing better. Ed wants to discuss the content and doesn't take critiques well.

The last meeting even earned the following comment "Doesn't anyone have something to say about the content?" I might have, but didn't want to get off track.

The piece was based on current events involving cartoonists and Middle Eastern religions. He didn't say anything poorly, but everything about it was touchy. It wasn't the time or the place to discuss.

Like I said, we're a writing club, not a debate club.

I wish I had the fortitude to say that to him, rather than writing it here.

Even offering a comment about the writing generally brings a dismissive wave or gesture from Ed. I've pretty much learned that he isn't going to listen to any suggestion, so unless I feel very strongly about the structure or something that I feel would improve the piece, I don't say it. It's not worth it to me.

And it keeps comments about his piece to under ten minutes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Title: Time and Again

Author: Jack Finney

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: Simon Morely is the first sucessful canidate to travel back in time. The inevitable applications of the project cross boundaries that Si isn't willing to step over.

The Take-Away: I first read this novel during my college years and loved it. But it was an abridged audio book and I've always wondered what I missed out on. Re-reading it was a pleasure.

The charm of the book comes from the narrator's voice and the quandry he finds himself in. Since time travel is possible in Si's world, can he change the past to suit those of the future? People might not be part of that future, if he changes it drastically? Or is the "twig in the river" theory correct? Could one man really change the course of events so significantly to change the course of the whole river? I don't think that we can even turn to our own history and say that if Hitler had never been, WWII wouldn't have happened. But other individuals were driving this movement too. Or a greater evil would have crept up. Really, the idea could be discussed to death.

The sequel, From Time to Time addresses this idea in great detail.

When I started researching for this post, I found that Jack Finney died in 1995, about three years before I found his book. I was a little crushed to learn that this author that I enjoyed so much wouldn't be adding anything to his body of work. He left behind 14 titles, however, 12 of which I haven't read. I was pleased too with the fact that he was born in Milwaukee, WI.

Recommendation: Purchase both this title and the sequel. Pass it around to your friends and have numerous "what if" discussions afterwards.

Parenting Hardships 101 - Update 2

It's been one week since Jonathon started sleeping in his own bed again. He is doing really well. Now when I take him up to go to bed, he cries for less than five minutes.

He's also started doing this funny face thing. He frowns. Not a little, but deep, corners to his chin frowning. But I'll beep his nose or tickle him under his chin and he'll smile. Then fight it back down again with The Frown.

It's like he's saying, "You might be able to make me laugh, Mom, but I'm not happy with you. Not at all."

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Four Pack of Jack by JA Konrath

Title: A Four Pack of Jack

Author: JA Konrath

Genre: Mystery

Summary: Over the course of four shorts, JA Konrath reveals what happens when his characters are left on their own.

The Take-Away: Although I enjoy reading Whiskey Sour from the point of view of Lt. Jack Daniels, it was equally fun to read the stories from her partners (both current and ex) and from the point of view of one of the Gingerbread Man's victims. JA Konrath's ability to change voice with each character is nicely demonstrated.

JA Konrath also takes advantage of the marketing technique offered by Amazon Shorts and gives readers more of what they want for less than a buck.

Recommendation: Buy them and toss about quarter his way.

The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen

Title: The Devil's Arithmetic

Author: Jane Yolen

Genre: Historical

Summary: Hannah is tired of always remembering the bitter sorrow of her family's past. She doesn't understand why remembering is important until she is drawn into the events of 1942 and her family's personal history.

The Take-Away: Jane Yolen is my favorite writer for the Jewish history of the Holocaust. Words cannot capture the complete horror that the Jews endured but Ms Yolen clues the rest of into the endurance of a people tortured for their culture, genetic make-up and beliefs.

Recommendation: Read it and pass it someone studying World War II history. Then go read Briar Rose.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Random Thought

As I locked my car this morning, I wondered how interested a potential thief would be in a sippy cup containing the last dredges of the 2yo chocolate milk and the library's audio book.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Parenting Hardships 101 - Update

Tuesday night seemed as if it would go as Monday night had, until my husband went up to talk to the 2yo. I listened over the monitor as they talked, read a book and sang a song together. My husband made the promise that he would be back upstairs in 20 minutes. I could hear the 2yo fight the tears, but he didn't start crying.

He fell asleep before the 20 minutes were up.

Last night was a similar performance, but with me making the 20 minute promise.

I have to admit, it got better alot faster than I thought it would. Thanks, everyone.

By a Spider's Thread by Laura Lippman

Title: By a Spider's Thread

Author: Laura Lippman

Genre: Mystery

Summary: Private investigator Tess Monaghan is hired to find Mark Rubin's missing wife and three children. After several years of marital bliss, Mark can think of no reason for her to run away. Tess finds the clues that show a different woman that Mark believed his wife to be.

The Take-Away: Religion factors heavily into the case that Tess needs to solve. The necessary information wasn't just dumped on the reader or the investigator. Instead the revelant points were spread through several chapters and characters. Minor nuances were explained only when required and always in a superb manner. Half the time, I didn't realize that it was an info-dump because I was so interested in how it would lead them to the children.

It isn't the best mystery I've ever read, but I believe that the character development and growth that I enjoy would be found in another portion of the series. In this title, the character is in a personal slump and throws herself completely into the case to avoid confronting that side of her life.

Recommendation: Borrow it from the library and check out another title.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


For those of you who have been test readers for my short story, I thank you, publically, and from the bottom of my heart for assisting in getting the words on the paper to envoke the feeling I desired. Y'all rock!

It's been submitted and as soon as I know anything, I'll pass along words, whether they be good, bad or indifferent.

On an unrelated note, I'm taking a full day training course tomorrow and won't have time in the morning to post as is my habit (I've been reading victorian literature and am too delighted with the style to care its effecting affecting of my own voice.) I will however, leave you in the good hands of Word Nerd, Erin and Jess, three local woman whose blogs are a daily read for me.


Odd things that are funny to me

My email program routes anything from Writer's Digest to the spam box.

Their reputation less than sterling reputation must be catching up to them.

Parenting Hardships 101

Last November, the 2yo decided sleeping with Momma was better than sleeping in his own bed.

Last night was ruled to be the night he returned to his own bed. I agreed to the edict. He didn't. Let just say that things didn't go smoothly.

What's not smoothly, you ask. Well, have you ever left your child or someone you love crying as their heart has been broken? Was it your fault? Was it over something that was within your power to fix, but you decided not to?

The baby monitor was set-up so I could experience every scream of agony, every wail, every plea. Since he has the tendency to throw up during fits of this sort, I did give in and check on him, twice. Nanny 911 be damned.

He hadn't thrown up, so I was somewhat re-assured that he wouldn't, if he continued in his current fashion. He would stop, and I think, finally. But no, it was only to catch his breath or gag silently before the screams began again.

If you live next door to us, sorry about that. You should anticipate a repeat performance tonight.

As I listened to him, I cried too. I felt just as awful, just as sick to my stomach. Not because I missed him, mind you. Because I was the source of his despair. It seeped away, bit by bit, to rage. What was the big deal, really, of sleeping in your own bed? He asked for his brother's bed, the futon, the couch, the puppies bed. Anywhere but his bed. Is it really that effing difficult to sleep in your own room?

He has a night light, toys, books, a desk light, blankets galore, everything that I have in my room. He could play. He could read. Hell, he even had his tape player loaded with a Blue's Clues Nighttime cd to listen to, just like we in my room. What's the problem?

The screaming stopped. In a perfectly reasonable voice, he calls, "Mom?" over and over again. Any fantasy I've every had of crowds chanting my name over and over again has been deleted from my memory. I didn't answer. It might be a trick.

I don't know what it was, but I found him on the couch this morning. Head tilted back, baby snores and some not so baby snores. Curled on his side, as he is often to do. Asleep as if nothing was wrong and the 90 minutes preceding his slumber hadn't been spent moaning and wailing like he was dressed in sackcloth and ashes.

If you'd like to teach your teenager the truth about parenting, let me know. We've got the most effective birth control package ever.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Whiskey Sour by JA Konrath

Title: Whiskey Sour

Author: JA Konrath

Genre: Mystery

Summary: Lt. Jack Daniels retains her sense of humor while having a bad week and working with her ex-partner, who is the key to unraveling the identity of the Gingerbread Man.

The Take-Away: I've been reading Joe's blog (see first half of author name) and occasionally visit his homepage (see second half of author name.) The information presented and the voice used in his blog postings make me think, "Damn, I need to add this man to my already growing reading list." Thank the fates that the Public Library was able to provide the first book for me quickly. The sharp, crisp sentences are exactly what I'd have expected after reading his blog. The characters are flawed, but good at their jobs. Even the name "Jack Daniels" is forgiveable once explained as to how it was acquired.

Plus it's a hell of a marketing technique.

Recommendation: Get it from the library, but expect straight forward detective work.

Bonus Note: Word Nerd has her review up too.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Reason Number X for Reading Miss Snark

Like I really needed another reason to read Miss Snark. I'm in love with her way of calling a spade, a spade.

(The following is a direct quote of her thoughts regarding a big constest sponsored here.)

The prize is a trip to NYC (yay!) and a meeting with four editors or agents.

Oh, and you'll get a publishing package from a ...wait, wait, wait..Outskirts Press?

Wtf? Who are they? Oh...uh huh. POD on a stick. Yummy.

[My edit to the next interesting paragraph]

How much does it cost to enter? $15 for each ms.

Ok, let's do some math.

Figure 10,000 entries (and heck, we had 100 on the crapomter in 72 hours so I know 10,000 is a reasonable number).

$150,000 gross. Less some prize money, and a trip to NYC ($30,000). That's $120,000 to open some envelopes...and do they even say send in an SASE for a response? if no, it's just open, scan, shred...man, I'm in the wrong business.

Unless you read the original, the sponsor of said contest is a supposedly trustworthy name in publishing. Looks like they sold out to me.

And I need to submit my resume as a professional envelope opener to Miss Snark's agency.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Title: The Glass Castle

Author: Jeannette Walls

Genre: Memoir

Summary: Jeannette Walls tells how her family survived in extreme poverty and how life provided for them.

The Take-Away: I cannot relate in any fashion as to why a parent wouldn't want to do whatever they could to feed, cloth and provide for their child. Both Rose Marie and Rex Walls routinely avoided work, preferring a free spirited lifestyle of artist and inventor, respectively. The extremes that Ms Walls and her siblings went through to make sure that they had food to eat astonded me. The tale changes as Ms Walls grows up and understands exactly what choices her parents are making. Seldom is there any animosity or anger in her voice. When there is, specific situations pull it out, rather than every action.

I could not have been so forgiving or tolerate. Poverty is presented in a very different way than most of us are willing to look. To say that this book is eye-opening would be understating the memories that it left me with.

Recommendation: Read it and realize the obstacles that can be overcome, if one is willing to try.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Movie Review: Annapolis

The husband and I saw Annapolis last night. After seeing it, I'd recommend waiting until it comes out on video. The beginning is fantastic, but the ending is weak.

The story follows Jake's quest to fulfill his childhood dream of going to the naval academy. From early scenes we know that Jake is a boxer, his dad works at a ship yard supervising welders, Jake almost has his hours so he can join the union.

All were excellent examples of showing what Jake was like and hinted at the disatisfaction he felt as his life became just like his dad's. The best part was showing his persistence.

After a day of welding, Jake is told that a navy admiral is in the yard looking for him. Jake goes out and the conversation goes something like this.

Jake: I'm Jake Huard.

Admiral: I'm trying to figure out how someone with mediocre grades got a congressman to write a recommendation for the academy.

Jake: I had to see him a couple of times.

Admiral: How many times is a couple?

Jake: Every day for 34 days.

The admiral asks another question that Jake answers in a similar fashion. Unfortunately, my memory is failing already and I don't remember it. What I do remember is a buddy later on asking, "What are you going to do if that doesn't work?" Jake counters with "I know I'm going to do it." You believe him because he went to a congressman's office every day for 34 days until he got what he wanted.

I enjoyed watching the movie to see how the storyline was built and carried through. The ending, however, wasn't as strong as the beginning. There's one good line - "I didn't do it for you. I did it for the academy." Otherwise, one thread was left open completely and it didn't hold the punch that Jake's convinction held at the beginning.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

This is bogus

Soldier pays for armor

The last time 1st Lt. William “Eddie” Rebrook IV saw his body armor, he was lying on a stretcher in Iraq, his arm shattered and covered in blood.

A field medic tied a tourniquet around Rebrook’s right arm to stanch the bleeding from shrapnel wounds. Soldiers yanked off his blood-soaked body armor. He never saw it again.

But last week, Rebrook was forced to pay $700 for that body armor, blown up by a roadside bomb more than a year ago.

via J-Walk

I should have been a Marketing Exec

This past weekend I had a cup of Victor Allen coffee as I often do on the morning my crit group meets. I like to pop into New Moon Cafe not only to support the local coffee shop, but the local coffee resaler. Victor Allen is based in Little Chute.

The meeting, however, didn't hold my full attention, as I was fascinated by the logo on the coffee cup. The logo was the middle one on the home page. I started by looking at the bean and wondered briefly why it had a tail.

If the "v" is inverted, it's an "a" since the tail is on the bean. Then lightning struck.

It looks like sperm.

As I stiffled my giggle, the full implication of the "v" hit me as well. V = vagina or an open, welcoming pair of legs. I stiffled more giggles. My apologizes to whoever's piece was up for comment. I should have explained, but as I am the only romance writer, I figured I'd share my thoughts with a wider audience.

The history page at the Victor Allen website doesn't say how the company was started, just that they have been around since 1979 and have 9 stores. Is the name based on the founder?

Or just some really clever marketing techniques?

Monday, February 06, 2006

Flash Fiction

I sent my submission Writer's Digest: Your Assigment today.

As soon as I know anything, I'll let you know.

The Skystone by Jack Whyte

Title: The Skystone

Author: Jack Whyte

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: The Roman world has expanded farther than its leaders can retain control over. A new world is formed on the Isle of Britian and traced through the lives of two former Roman soldiers.

The Take-Away: I followed the recomendation of Word Nerd and picked up the first title in the Camulod Chronicles. The basic premise of the Arthur legends begins in this novel. The references to Arthur and his tragic story are subtle and worked into a realistic story. I'm very interested in seeing how the series develops since the story thus far focuses on the history of England and the people that shape it after the demise of the Roman Empire.

Recommendation: Read it, but don't expect any sort of typical Arthur story.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Son of the Witch by Gregory Maguire

Title: Lost: The Son of the Witch

Author: Gregory Maguire

Genre: Fantasy

Summary: Liir struggles with his parentage, making sense of an Oz with no Witch or Wizard, and finding his role in the new world their void has left behind.

The Take-Away: The writing is excellent, just excellent. I love the way the sentences have been constructed and the careful word choice. But (heard that, did you?) I don't get it.

I thought back to its predecessor,Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West and realized that if it hadn't been for the clever tie-ins to the movie we all know and love, I would have felt the same. There's a great story in here; I'm not smart enough to figure it out on my own. It would be a great selection for a book club since the discussion would be endless.

Recommendation: Read it and email me about what the heck is going on.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

On Critiques

I've been thinking about critiques. Specifically for the written work.

For many people a critique equals criticism. In turn, criticism means that the labor wasn't good. Miss Snark's Crapometer proved just how true that was.

But can't a critique mean something more than finding fault?

I believe it can. But it relies on several things: thick skin, honesty, bias, self-improvement, trust and relationships are the few that come to mind.

I just started reading a book called The Writing Clinic from The Writer's Digest. Part One is titled The Value of Critiquing. This is my favorite bit.

Does it inspire you? If you have to strain to understand what your critiquers are talking about, then the suggestion probably isn't for you. The good ones hit like a revelation, leaving you itching to start your rewrites.

I'm not too much further than that passage. It make me pause, pull out my red pen and underline it. I'm not a prolific writer and don't bring something to my crit group every month. When I do, however, I walk away with a sense of how I can make my changes and the strength that they add.

I want to be a better critiquer, so I looked ahead to the section entitled Critique Etiquette. A series of rules follow for both the critiquer and the critiquee. The suggestions are ones most members of my group follow with ease. But my favorite was for the critiquee: Listen. Shut up and listen.

It's so easy to get wrapped up in the why, that the point is lost. The writer may have had a good reason, but it didn't work. Listen and figure out why it didn't work. Then jump into the revisions.

This book has an excellent format with examples of editing for literary elements in fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I have feeling that it's going to be invaluable with time.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Bookworm Report, January 2006

It's raining today. There's the distictive feel of March in the air, only it's February. Our most recent heating bill showed how mild of a winter it's been. It was nice to see, I must admit, even as I fret about the global impact such weather can be having.

Squire, bring forth The List!

Bookworm Review
Year Pages Books
2001 8,006 25
2002 3,995 12
2003 887 2
2004 1,654 5
2005 2,714 8
2006 3,434 11

For the year, I've read 11 books, or 3.434 pages, which averages to 11 books a month, or 3,434 pages per month, and an average book length of 312 pages.

I've got quite the extensive "To Read" list. It currently hosts 116 titles. My loose goal for the year is to read the ones that made the list in 2005. I just hope I don't get carried away in adding titles in 2006.