Monday, December 16, 2013

OFF THE BOOKSHELF: The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt

The Christmas Tree Treasure Hunt is what I was taught to consider a "shared universe" story -- meaning multiple authors contribute to the story line/universe.

Authors: Joan Campbell, Jennifer Fromke, Sheryl Holmes, Deanna Klingel, Fay Lamb, J.A. Marx, Ruth O'Neil, Debbie Roome and Marji Laine. Each author contributed a chapter to the book.

Publisher: Write Integrity Press. or from Amazon -- I read this on Kindle, and am pretty sure it was a free book when I got it.

Grace is our narrator, grieving the loss of her grandmother as Christmas approaches, and still wounded from the betrayal of her twin sister, whom she has not seen since high school. Orphaned as children, she and her twin were raised by their grandmother -- now Grace is totally alone in the world.

That is, until she gets a package prepared by her grandmother before she died. As children, the twins loved going on treasure hunts created by their grandmother. This package has nine envelopes and sends Grace around the world to meet people important to her grandmother and to learn valuable lessons about forgiveness, second chances, and trusting in God.

Honestly, I teared up several times, reading this book. What's interesting is that many e-books open up to the table of contents and don't give you the cover art unless you flip backwards, so I and didn't realize there were nine authors. The various chapters came together so smoothly, the "voice" didn't change for me. Nicely done!

If you want a heart-warming story for Christmas that takes you around the world, this is the one to add to your reading list. Bravo to the authors!

Monday, December 9, 2013

OFF THE BOOKSHELF: A Darcy Christmas -- Jane Austen Tribute Anthology

A DARCY CHRISTMAS is an anthology of novellas in tribute to Jane Austen and probably her most famous couple -- Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. I know I got this from B&N, but I honestly can't remember if this was a Free Book Friday book, or the featured book they offer first when you touch the "shop" button on your Nook. All I know is, I had to have it.

One word (can you really limit yourself to ONE word to describe this collection?): CHARMING.

Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan and Carolyn Eberhart did a lovely job, going on after the last page of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE to speculate on "What if?" -- and setting all their stories at Christmas.

What if Mr. Darcy didn't ask Lizzy to marry him a second time? What if their first child was born at Christmas? What would the Christmases be like through the years, as they grew older and their children grew up and started falling in love?

Starting with a tribute to Dickens with "Mr.  Darcy's Christmas Carol" -- yeah, exactly! -- and then traveling through the years ... you'll smile every time you open your book and settle down for another little glimpse into the Darcy family's Christmas traditions and adventures.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE HOLY by A.W. Tozer

My discussion group on Wednesday night at church is reading this book. We're meeting until the middle of December -- I just finished reading this. Always a smart idea to have actually read the chapters you're going to discuss in class that night before you get there.

This is definitely one of those books that should be read and re-read on a regular basis. Even though it's fairly small -- only 94 pages in my iBooks application -- there's a lot to think about, a lot to learn.

Knowledge of the Holy = understanding all the many facets of the character of God, and what they mean. Even more important, how those different aspects of God relate to those of us who claim to be His followers, and what that means in our lives. The closer we come to a better understanding of the God we claim we serve (yes, I keep saying "claim" because how many of us actually live up to what we say we are, what we say we do, what we say we believe? I mean, really?) the deeper the implications and the more imperative it is to live what we believe.

This book presents and defends the premise that what the modern Church thinks it knows about God ... ain't necessarily so. Even though this was written a number of decades ago, the truths it presents and the fallacies that the Church and so-called Christians and the disbelieving world in general supports about God are still applicable. We are just as guilty now as the people of Tozer's day were of painting a picture of God that diminishes His power and holiness, changing Him from the God to whom we owe everything, and who we should adore and love and fear, to essentially a big cuddly, slightly fuddled grandfather who just wants everyone to get along and lets us do our own will instead of His.

I'm going to make it a goal to try to read this book at least twice a year. Enough time for me to be able to look back and see if the last reading made any difference. Maybe something will strike me as new, or what has happened to me in the last six months will have an impact.

I highly recommend you get this book, and others by Tozer, and get reading. They'll make a difference. The man is easy to read, which means you'll spend more time thinking about what he said rather than trying to untangle HOW he said it, and that translates into having an impact sooner.

Monday, November 18, 2013

From the Bookshelf: RADICAL, by David Platt

We've been reading this book as a church the last month or so. Pastor Dan has been preaching based on the topics/chapters, and different small groups and classes have been independently studying the book.

The subtitle is: Taking back your faith from the American Dream.

Huh? Why would the American Dream imprison or threaten or steal our faith? How?

Essentially, we have so MUCH that it's slowing us down, clogging our minds, making us sleepy, blocking our vision. Do we ever stop to think why God has blessed us in this country with so much? Yes, I do mean the entire country. Because when you look at the statistics, a lot of people in this country who consider themselves living in poverty are rich, living in comfort, compared to most of the people in this world.

Makes you stop and think doesn't it? And that's the purpose of the book. Near the beginning of our study, one of the men in our class at church spoke up and asked, "Why are we reading this book, when we KNOW all this already?" Essentially, he was asking why we had to spend money on the books, and waste our time covering material we already know. Well, I think the answer is that we KNOW it, but we don't ACT on it. We agree, yes, God gave us wealth and abilities and resources to use them for His glory ... but how many of us take what God has entrusted to us, and gone out and USED it? (How many of those glitzy, slick preachers touting a Prosperity Gospel actually TELL their congregations that God wants them to be rich so they can WORK for Him? I'm afraid too many stop at "God wants you rich," but never tell anyone WHY God wants them rich. Yes, God loves us, but He's not the kind of parent who gives His kids anything they want just because they want it. Daddy gives you a car so you can drive others to school. Daddy gives you a toolbox to fix cars to help others, and build furniture for others, etc., etc.)

The book finishes with several challenges to endeavor to meet during the next year -- just a year of living radically, sacrificially, and thinking about others instead of our own wants and dreams. It's easy to finish a book like this and be all fired up to go out there and start living like a servant, a disciple, an apostle -- but how long will the "Yes Lord!" attitude really last? How long can we go before we start losing people from the ranks and commitments are canceled and the burden rests on fewer and fewer, who burn out faster, until nobody is being RADICAL any longer?

How many times will I need to re-read this book before it sticks?
Read it. You'll probably get very uncomfortable -- but maybe guilt is good for the soul. It might actually get you off your chair and out moving and doing ... for a while, anyway.
If you're not uncomfortable after reading this book ... I'd worry, if I were you.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: MIRROR, MIRROR

The yearly anthology by JD Robb, Mary Blayney, Elaine Fox, Mary Kay McComas, and R.C. Ryan is something I always look forward to. So yes, I broke my vow not to buy new books until I had cleared a shelf of my to-be-read bookrack.

This anthology takes classic faerie tales and puts them in more recent settings, either rewriting the whole story or using elements from them to weave a romance.

We have Hansel & Gretel, Goldilocks, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Matchgirl, and Cinderella. My hat off to these master storytellers. I've played with turning faerie tales and turning them into SF stories -- making them more close to our own time is a little harder, but they do it wonderfully. Read the book!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: SNUFF by Terry Pratchett

Yet ANOTHER addiction of mine -- the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett.

What's Discworld, you may ask?

Fantasy -- British humor -- magic -- silliness -- clever -- satire.

Discworld -- a disk-shaped world/flat world -- floating through space on the back of four elephants, poised on the back of a giant, spacegoing turtle.

SNUFF regales readers with the further adventures of Sam Vimes, commander of the Ankh-Morpork Watch -- the city police. Poor Commander Vimes has given in and gone off to the country (foreign culture) with his wife, Lady Sybil, for a vacation. What's a copper to do? He doesn't have to look for trouble, though -- it finds him.

I LOVE Discworld, and I especially love going back again and again and watching favorite characters grow and develop as their lives change. Vimes is a man of the streets, yet somehow he ends up a duke and married to a noble lady -- who happens to raise dragons -- and now their son is growing up. Adorable, clever, precocious Young Sam. Other characters I love to visit again are the witches led by Granny Weatherwax, or the bumbling wizards of the Unseen University. Major fun to be had all the time.

And for the truly adventurous, there are graphic novels, as well as movies based on several of the books. I'd start with Hogfather, if I were you. Especially since Christmas is coming up, and Hogfather ... umm ... satirizes some aspects of the extremely commercialized holiday ... just saying ...

Monday, October 14, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: CALCULATED IN DEATH by JD Robb

What can I say? I am addicted to the adventures of Dallas and Roarke -- as in Eve Dallas, homicide detective in a near-future New York, and her Irish-born gazillionaire (her words!) husband.

It just goes to show how busy I've been for the last year, that I didn't get this book in hardcover when it first came out, but waited for paper. Of course, then I devoured it in three days -- after I got my day's writing and earning-a-living work done, of course.

Thank goodness the baseball season is over (for me, anyway) so my evenings are a little freer ....

CALCULATED IN DEATH starts with finding a murdered woman in a doorway on a frigid November evening. She's a wife, mother, accountant/auditor, and the murderer tries to make it look like a mugging. But of course, Dallas senses something is wrong. And as she follows the trail and uncovers the lies being told by multiple people, she gets the true criminals upset, then panicked, so they make big mistakes.

More important than the mystery and bringing justice for the victim, though, is the interplay of characters, the growth of the relationship between Eve and Roarke, the visits from people we've come to know and love, and chuckle quietly as Eve struggles with the trials and tribulations of being famous, despite her best efforts to just do her job. Her utter terror of the beautician, Trina. Her frustration with Roarke, who delights in showering her with gifts -- but the man knows how to make them useful, as in a thigh holster to go under her designer gown, or a leather coat with a stunner-proof lining. And then there's Peabody, her partner, and McNab, e-detective, and their relationship, the pop singer Mavis and her fashion designer husband, Leonardo, Dr. Mira and her husband and other members of the NYPSD.

I finished a big writing project, met a deadline, and despite my resolve not to buy new books until I cleared at least one shelf of my to-be-read bookrack ... well, I deserve the treat, the indulgence. Love the books!

Monday, October 7, 2013

SOLDIER'S HEART by Tamera Kraft

Instead of giving you a book report, I'm delighted to talk about the newest release by one of my writing friends, Tamera Lynn Kraft.

Murray Pura's American Civil War Series - Cry of Freedom - Volume 13 - Soldier's Heart 

150 years ago the history of America changed forever. Live 1863 through the stories of some of our finest writers – the passion, the romance, the tragedy, and the triumph. 

Noah Andrews, a soldier with the Ohio Seventh Regiment can’t wait to get home now that his three-year
enlistment is coming to an end. He plans to start a new life with his young wife. Molly was only sixteen when she married her hero husband. She prayed every day for him to return home safe and take over the burden of running a farm.

But they can’t keep the war from following Noah home. Can they build a life together when his soldier’s heart comes between them?

Check out Tamera's web site at:

Or follow this link to the Amazon page for the Kindle edition:

Monday, September 30, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: UNMASKING THE MYSTERY OF POINT OF VIEW, by Angela Hunt

Book 3 in Writing Lessons from the Front by Dr. Angela Hunt deals with the conundrums of POV, shorthand for Point of View.

Essentially -- what "camera" are we looking through during the narration of the story? Is the "camera" sitting on someone's shoulder, hovering around the room, or looking through the narrator's eyes as he or she participates in the story and relates all thoughts and feelings?

How do you choose with POV to use? How do you know what works best? How do you STAY in the correct POV? What's the difference between 1st person, 3rd person, 2nd person, 3rd person omniscient, or Deep POV? Check out this short, practical book, follow the good doctor's advice, and you'll be on your way.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: DIVINE SUMMONS, Windrider Saga #1, by Rebecca Minor

It's always cool to look up -- and then download and read -- a book by someone you've recently met, in person, talked to, gotten to know. I met Rebecca Minor at the first Realm Makers Conference in St. Louis. Not only has she put together the Faith and Fantasy Alliance (which I still have to remember to join!) but she knows how to throw one incredible "party" for spec fic writers.

Should have guessed from her incredible, intricate elf costume at the banquet that her book would be the same way -- elves, swords, quests, danger, dragons, prophecies, half-bloods, snarky comments. She's got it all!

Vinyanel Ecleriast is an elf warrior with a major attitude. That can be good when your kingdom and your king are threatened by nasty lizardy enemies called the Dragonkin -- not to be confused with real dragons, because at least some turn out to be the good guys. This is only the first book, so I don't know the final score on that one. Vinyanel has already lost most of his fellow-soldiers in the effort to get a power chalice out of enemy hands and to the king. Then he runs into a prophetess with a 'tude of her own, and a problem with heights, which doesn't work out so good when they have to escape certain death on the back of a dragon!

And that's just the first few pages. This is a fast read, and even though some of the prose took on a lavender tinge in spots ... it's fun! Can't wait to see what kind of trouble Vinyanel and his friends/allies/reluctantly accepted mentors face in the next book.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

Edited by Tara L. Masih.
Printed by -- of course -- Rose Metal Press.

I never heard of this book until the intrepid publishers of Splickety magazine spoke at the Realm Makers conference in August (and if you get a chance, read Splickety and go to Realm Makers -- you won't regret a second of it!). What is Splickety? Well, it's .... drumroll ... a magazine of flash fiction.

What's flash? Usually around 1,000 words, although some places want shorter pieces. And sometimes flash fiction can be as short as a few sentences. Ouch. I can't trim my work down that far. Or at least, I haven't tried yet. Because, confession time here, I'm having fun learning to write flash fiction. Trying to tell a coherent story in essentially two single-spaced pages. It's a challenge that I highly recommend for anyone who wants to improve their writing.

The Field Guide contains essays on the history of flash fiction, the concepts of flash fiction, theories, writing prompts, and exercises. And more important, examples of what the many contributors consider excellent flash fiction to read and think about and learn from. If you want to try writing flash -- or all the other different labels used for the form since it first began -- read this book. You'll get ideas, you'll have those wonderful "Ah ha!" moments, and something that's been sticking in your head might just un-stick. Well worth the time of reading and thinking, and well worth the investment. Even if you don't write flash fiction, this is a writing book worth reading, just because it will impact how you look at your writing, no matter the genre, subject matter, or length.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: THE SERPENT'S SHADOW

Today we finish up the Kane Chronicles, by Rick Riordin.

I admit it, until this series, most of what I knew about Egyptian mythology came from Stargate SG-1. This has been an education -- and in a most pleasant way. Wow, you thought soap operas were convoluted and the guy you trusted yesterday is stabbing you in the back today. The Egyptian pantheon, which goes on and on and on, makes the soaps seem wimpy and simplistic!

The Kanes are still trying to stop the destruction of the world by Apophis, the god of chaos. They do a lot of running around, trying to convince hopeful allies they're not the bad guys, and trying to rescue friends. Their biggest problem is that they're still learning the rules of magic, learning to use their powers -- while they're expected to teach others how to use magic. A big hangup for both of them is that the Egyptian gods have a tendency to -- ahem -- borrow human bodies. (No, not like in Stargate) How do they work with these powerful beings who don't think like humans, without getting taken over completely? And what do they do when their romantic interests are "borrowed," maybe even permanently?

I was glad to see that in the process of using sympathetic magic to try to destroy Apophis, Sadie stops to use it to help an old friend who took the fall in a big way for them in the previous book. I really liked Bes, and was glad to see him get "re-booted" and jump back into the battle.

All in all a satisfying end to the series, with maybe some hints that more adventures await the Kanes, because they aren't the only magicians out there, and the Egyptian gods aren't the only deities messing with the world. There are references to something strange going on, on the other side of the river in New York. What would happen if Percy Jackson and his crew met up with the Kane siblings and the residents of Brooklyn House? Could be interesting!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: THRONE OF FIRE

THRONE OF FIRE is the 2nd book in the Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan -- otherwise known as the author of the Percy Jackson books. Major fun, no matter which pantheon you're totally renovating.

The Kane siblings, Carter and Sadie, are in major trouble. Their father is stuck in the underworld, since he's the current incarnation of Osiris, the god of the dead. They're new to their powers as magicians -- the Egyptian priest/god-battling variety -- and it seems to be up to them and other descendants of ancient pharaohs to learn their powers and come up with a plan in time to stop Apophis, the serpent god of chaos, from destroying the world. You'd think the other magicians of the Egyptian variety would be helping them, but noooooo ... Carter and Sadie hacked off everybody in the whole planet when, during their first adventure and without knowing what was going on -- or even what was happening to them -- they temporarily "hosted" 2 Egyptian gods. Seems that's against the rules and condemns them automatically to death. Give them a break -- they're just kids! But really smart, talented, survive-against-all-odds kids.

In this second adventure, Carter and Sadie, with much bickering and wry humor and frustration, have to figure out how to bring Ra, the sun god, back in time to battle Apophis when he breaks out of his centuries-old prison. (Seems Ra was the only one who could keep the troublemaker under control before.) That's the easy part. But I'm not going to tell you what else happens because you GOTTA read this book. It's fun! I love how Riordan revises the ancient myths and gives modern personalities to the gods of different cultures. Now that he's renovated the Greco-Roman and Egyptian mythologies, I wonder who he'll turn to next ... Norse mythology? Hmm, Marvel has already done that with Thor, but that'd be cool whatever he does. Mayan? Native American?

I'm reading the third book in the series, THE SERPENT'S SHADOW, and that should be my book report next week. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: STORYBOUND

Have you ever wished you could fall into one of your favorite books? Jump in and adventure with characters you fell in love with? Imagine falling into the place where all the storybook characters originate -- where they go to school to learn to be the characters in your book.

This book was a Nook Free Fridays read. Love finding new authors this way.

Marissa Burt has dreamed up such a place, called, simply, "Story." Una Fairchild is in the library and picks up a book that tells her story, and the next thing she knows, she's encountering a Hero and Lady, taking a test on being a Hero and a Lady.

What's going on? Well, that's what Una is trying to figure out. She and Peter, the Hero-in-training, determine that she has been Written In, but that isn't a good thing. She could be hunted down and imprisoned, maybe hurt. Because things aren't very nice in Story. Something awful happened in the past, and as Una and Peter and assorted allies start to put together the pieces ... well, Una isn't very happy when she finds out the part she is about to play.

And I wasn't too happy to get to the end of the book before the end of the story -- meaning ... TO BE CONTINUED. Aarrgghh!

The author is clever, making her storybook world believable, from the characters to the long-ago rebellion and all the lies within lies. I have to know what happens next! You'll enjoy it -- just be prepared to either hunt down the sequel or endure some frustration if you can't read the next book right away. The sequel is called STORY'S END. It's in my wish list, definitely!

Monday, August 19, 2013


Written by Mark Liponis, M.D., Medical Director, Canyon Ranch Health Resorts.

The cover says: Do you have the metabolism of a Hunter or a Farmer? Find out ... and achieve your health and weight-loss goals!

Hunters and farms use glucose different ways, react differently to insulin, and store body fat different ways/places. How you eat and what types of foods and when you eat are more important than how much you eat. Thank you! Do you know how frustrating it is, carrying a calorie-counting book the size of a phone book everywhere you go?

Yeah, I know, I have a LOT of diet and fitness books in my e-book library, why buy another one? Besides the fact my cousin (owner of Soza Fitness and Wellness -- if you need torturing... err ... guidance in getting in shape, check him out) told me to read the book, figure out which I am, and start eating according to the guidelines?

Well, yeah, that's the whole idea. Eat better, get rid of health problems, combine it with the early morning exercise/torture I put myself through six days a week ... eventually, I'll work off 25+ years of Writer's Butt.

It's an easy, short read, and it makes sense. It also gives general guidelines that seem pretty easy to keep in mind when you're shopping, when you're hungry, when you're out at a restaurant. It's not like other diet programs that give you a mile-long list of what you can eat, what you can't eat, and expect you to remember what time of the day to eat each food, how much/little you can have each day, etc., etc., ad infi-migraine.

Will it work? Matt swears by it, and others are finding results. Check back with me in a year!

Monday, August 12, 2013


This book, #2 in the Writing Lessons from the Front series by Dr. Angela Hunt, is a classic example that good things do come in small packages.

Just 42 pages in Kindle Format, the good doctor crams in a lot of great advice. Even more important, she doesn't say you MUST do things exactly the way she does. She offers suggestions, gives examples, and leaves it up to you to find the best way for YOU to create your characters.

I like the way she adapts the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to help you get a good handle on the way characters act and react, determining the secret pain, the dreams and goals of your characters. My usual tactic is to get to know my characters as I'm writing them, but doggone it, I could save a lot of time, and maybe two drafts of the book, by figuring out things before I sit down to write.

Maybe. I'll have to think about it.

Because that's the important thing to remember: You have to write YOUR way, and this book shows you how you can pick and choose your tools -- and make your writing job easier. Buy it! And check out the other books in the series. I know I am!

Monday, August 5, 2013


I remember finding this book by E. Nesbit in the bookshelves in my fifth grade classroom and devouring it. I thought I was pretty smart, because everybody who even had the slightest idea who Shakespeare was said his stories were complicated and hard to read -- what with the King James English and being in script format.

These stories are Ms. Nesbit's re-telling of some of Shakespeare's plays -- certainly not all of them, like the really bloody, violent, insane ones -- in short story format. She essentially makes them family friendly and easier to digest. I don't know if they'd help you pass a test on Shakespeare, because she glosses over some of the grittier elements of the stories.

Still, as an introduction to Shakespeare and some of his better-known plays, it's a good starting place. I'm glad I found this e-book -- a collection of the complete works of E. Nesbit, with illustrations -- and I'll be reading more of her books and reporting on them here as time goes on. She wrote a lot of fantasy. Not as fun as, say, the Edward Eager books like Half Magic, but interesting just the same. These are classics that you should introduce your children to -- before they read the modern ones like Percy Jackson or Twilight.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: STARFIRE: The Mending

Confession time: I had planned to read through all my books published by Marcher Lord Press before going to the Realm Makers Conference in St. Louis this week ... but time ran out!

This novel by Stuart Vaughn Stockton is the first book in a series -- evidenced by labeling it Book 1.

How many books in the series? Not sure, but considering the vast amount of world-building the author put into it ... I'm guessing the war between saurian races and the prophecies to be fulfilled and all the complicated politics and soul-searching and military maneuvers to come ... decades, generations will be covered in the coming books. It could go on forever!

I have to admire the world-building and all the thought and effort and organization expended on this book. I lost count of all the different species, the colors, the sizes, the personality types involved in the many saurian races who inhabit this world and this book. It almost makes my head hurt.

What's that? Saurian? Yeah -- the characters in the book are all different species of sentient dinosaurs. And they're at war. If I was a dinosaur fan I would probably have devoured this book in 1/10 the time it took me to read it, even discounting editorial deadlines and making a living and Vacation Bible School and other things. But I'm not a dinosaur "person," so that slowed me down -- but here's the thing: I was able to ignore the things I wasn't "into" quite often with this book, caught up in the action, the conflict, the problems that the hero, Rathe, faces. Which tells you just how good this writer is. If you're into military, dinosaurs, massive world-spanning conflicts and heroes who just can't seem to win ... any combination of these factors or all of them together -- Read this book!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: OXYGEN

Ever feel like you're jumping on the bandwagon so late, you almost missed and ended up face-down in the dust?

People have been talking about OXYGEN by John B. Olson and Randy Ingermanson on various Christian writing loops for what seems like YEARS. When the book was re-packaged and re-released by Marcher Lord  some time ago (don't ask me how long, but it was near the bottom of the list on my iPad Kindle reader, meaning it was one of the first books I got) I decided to get it.

Wish I had read it sooner! Yeah, I sometimes had a hard time with all the astronaut lingo and acronyms (occupational hazard when dealing with the government/military/sciences) and wondered when the promised romance would gain speed (the tagline proclaims it a science fiction romantic suspense), but the book kept me reading. Even when I should have been doing something else, like meeting deadlines for my own publishers!

The story: A manned mission to Mars (say that ten times fast!), all the prep work, personalities involved, politics, paranoia, and all the soul-searching and struggle for survival that takes place when things go very, very wrong with life support, when there's no chance of turning back or help reaching them in time.

What can I say? Wow. Thoroughly thought through, grabbing at your emotions, and threatening to give you a sore throat from holding back vocal arguments with or warnings to the main characters while reading in public. I'm just not into the space program -- I prefer my stories where we're already "out there" -- but this held my attention and interest. Good job, guys.

Interesting side note: At the back of the book is lots of bonus material, talking about how the book was written and sold, the collaboration between the two authors, and how they came up with the sequel. I haven't read all that material, but from everything I've heard about Ingermanson and Olson, definitely something a serious writer should read, just to learn from them.

Should you read OXYGEN? You better believe it.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: THE LOST CODE

THE LOST CODE: Book One of the Atlanteans, by  Kevin Emerson, was a Nook Free Book Friday book I picked up only a few weeks ago. YA SF/Fantasy, it intrigued me enough to start reading right away.

The setting: A future world where climate change has gone so wrong that people live underground or in domes to protect them from killing UV, the poles have melted and the world seems to be either desert or flooded. Owen, our hero, is a skinny teen from an underground community who gets the "golden ticket" opportunity -- summer camp in one of the Eden domes. During the swim test he drowns ... sort of.

And that triggers a whole ton of changes in his life -- as in plans created by an ancient race that was facing a similar situation -- the lives of some CITs, and sets in motion a chain of events that could change the world. If you read the next book -- and I recommend it.

I'm not ashamed of reading and enjoying YA, especially all the great adventure and discovery and the fantasy or SF elements that are showing up in so many nowadays. When I was a kid, the closest I could get to this kind of adventure was in the Edward Eager books -- remember HALF MAGIC or the TIME GARDEN? -- or Star Trek, or similar bits and pieces. Luckily, when I hit high school there was a huge surge of fantasy in movies and books. I remember people talking about the Lord of the Rings books like they were NEW ... no, I'm not THAT old, but close. Still, the SF and fantasy section at the bookstore was maybe five feet wide. Lean pickings in those days. Before online bookstores and e-books.

But anyway, I like this series, I like the hero -- he doesn't suddenly have all the answers, but he's willing to take risks and he has enough doubts to put a lot of tension in what happens to him and the people around him. I'll be sure to check back (when my reading pile is a little smaller) and see what else the author has to tell us next!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: THREE BRIDES, NO GROOM

I like series. And not just because I write series.
This is kinda-sorta a series, because it's three interconnected stories.
The frame: Three women meet at the day of their college reunion at the big old fountain in the middle of campus where it seemed like everything happened. They didn't plan to meet there -- they barely knew each other in college -- but each came to reminisce about the huge change that occurred in their lives there on campus, near that fountain, on their last days of college.

And since this is a Debbie Macomber book, of course there's romance and humor and some tears and growth and humor and ... *sigh* good story all around. Or in this case, three.

What ties these stories together? Young women, planning their weddings in the very new future, who learn their grooms are ... to put it delicately ... scumsucking jerks. Do they let it destroy them? Well, if they did, this wouldn't be a Debbie Macomber book. It'd be literary fiction, which is always depressing -- why do people read it, anyway? No, these wounded women lick their wounds and mourn the deaths of their dreams, and then they gather up their strength and dignity and move on to make new lives for themselves. Better lives. And fall in love along the way. But Debbie plays a trick on us -- it doesn't seem like they'll get happily ever after with the new, better guy. At first. Each woman tells her story and leaves it at the, "And then he walked away," point. Then they promise they'll get back together for dinner that evening at the college reunion, to tell the rest of their stories. Before they do, the readers get the "rest of the story."

Always satisfying -- Debbie Macomber.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: ABANDON

Don't you hate it when you pick up a book to read, and you realize it's the middle or last book in a series? Ever have that moment when you're torn between reading it anyway, putting it aside until you can find the first book/s, or immediately giving up and putting it on the stack to go to the used bookstore to trade in for credit, because you told yourself you were NOT buying any more new books for the rest of the year -- or at least until you reduced the to-be-read stack by a few feet?

This happened to me last year, when I got UNDERWORLD, the second book in the Abandon Trilogy, by Meg Cabot, as a freebie at RT in Chicago. But see, I like Meg Cabot, even if she does write YA and I'm ... well ... not in that category. But hey, it's a state of mind, right? Besides, I write YA once in a while, so I should see what other authors are doing. (That's my excuse and I'm sticking with it!)

Anyway .... I read UNDERWORLD, so when I saw ABANDON in a raffle basket at the recent NEORWA conference and realized it was the first book in the series, I had to have it. Just to see what happened before.

What's it about? Honey, this ain't the Princess Diaries! Thumbnail sketch: Pierce is a rich girl. Wouldn't say she's spoiled, but she has problems. Like, when she was 15, she hit her head, fell into a pool in the winter, and drowned herself dead. And came back. Of course. This isn't a zombie or vampire book. The thing is, she went somewhere between dying and reviving. And it changed her. People think she's nuts sometimes. "Disturbed." Now she's in a "special" program at her new school. Someone (yes, hunkalicious, but dangerous!) is following her around. And he's in love with her. And he has some really nasty, Greek-mythology-type enemies who want to use her to destroy him.

Ever read the Persephone myth? That should give you a clue what Pierce is up against.

I love Meg Cabot's voice. I think I'd be willing to read almost anything she wrote. I found some of her older books -- The Mediator series and the 1-800-Where-R-You? books. Keepers. Try her. You'll find something you'll like.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: STILLPOINT

STILLPOINT by Marilyn Kok -- romance in a foreign setting, with danger from deception and evil men, greed, and threats from nature. This was picked up at a book exchange with other members of ACFW Ohio.

I have to admit, I'm touchy when it comes to stories where the hero and heroine have to pretend to be interested in each other for a cover story. So when Kylie wasn't happy to have Jack arrive to investigate problems she  uncovered and one of the first things she learned was that their boss wanted them to pretend to be a couple ... I almost closed the book right there. Tried and true, cliched, call it what you will. I was glad when Kylie was not at all a happy camper and kept resisting it for quite a while. Until more important matters grabbed her attention.

But you use what works, and it makes sense for them to work closely together. What's the story? Jack comes to Hong Kong to investigate suspicious circumstances discovered by Kylie in the import company they work for. People are disappearing or being injured, others are telling lies, and a typhoon is approaching the island. Not a fun time to be had by all.

Except maybe the reader. If you like tension that slowly ramps up as the typhoon swirls closer and the weather gets worse and danger from man and nature grows deeper ... read this one.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: SAVE THE CAT! STRIKES BACK!

If you haven't heard of the Save the Cat! books or Blake Snyder ... well, either you've been living in a cave or you're not into screenwriting.

The thing is, I'd recommend the Save the Cat! books to any writer of fiction/drama, whether novels, short stories, or screenplays.

Blake Snyder, who died in 2009, shared his insights into deciphering what worked -- or more importantly, DIDN'T -- in screenplays through books and workshops. I wish I could have attended one of his workshops, had a chance to meet him, but alas, I can only read and re-read his books and wait for those flashes of "Ah ha!" that solve a problem in my writing at that point in time -- whether a novel, a short story, or my yearly screenplay.

What can I say? Read the books and quietly mourn the loss of a master who told it like it was -- and still is -- for writers everywhere, in writing and in their career.

What does a cat have to do with screenwriting? Well, duh, read the book and find out!

Monday, May 13, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: HOW SWEET IT IS

Book exchanges are great. Besides creating room on your shelf for new treasures and new authors to discover, you get to share a book that you know you won't read again (not because you don't want to, but because there just isn't enough TIME to go back) with someone who might just fall in love and make it a keeper. Everybody has different tastes.

Thank goodness. That means out there are people who love my books, along with people who like them and others -- may they be few! -- who see my name on a book cover and say, "Meh!"

HOW SWEET IT IS, by Alice Wisler, came to me through a book exchange with my ACFW chapter a year or so ago. Maybe longer. Just shows how BIG my to-be-read pile/bookshelf is. Wish I had read this charming, first person POV journey of recovery from shattered dreams and love and a car wreck and its attendant scars just a little sooner.

Deena, our heroine, is a chef -- until the story starts, working at an upscale restaurant in Atlanta. Then a car wreck and discovering her fiance had someone else in his life and an inheritance from her grandfather send her to the mountains of North Carolina. Maybe she doesn't start out searching for change, but it finds her. She learns from some unique and charming characters along the way and learns something about herself while she struggles to teach cooking to emotionally wounded children and set up her cake business. I wish I had her remote cabin in the mountains... Read the book, and visit there for a while, too. You won't say, "Meh!" to this story. Delicious, soft, and sweet. Like the white velvet cake recipe included.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: ORTHODOXY

Whew! It's done! I survived -- at least, I think so. The jury is still out on whether I strained more than the usual number of brain cells.

ORTHODOXY, by G.K. Chesterton -- he of Father Brown mystery stories fame -- was the subject of the spring book discussion group at my church. You want to talk about brain strain? Considering it took me since January to read 155 pages ... You have to go sloooooow with this book, and at the same time, I wonder if the slowness, just a couple pages every day, didn't contribute to the feeling that an awful lot was sliding past me.

This book is over 100 years old and is considered a classic in Christian writing. I don't know if it was the age, the fact the writer was British and there might be some language problems, or what, but I had a hard time absorbing what was being said, learning, and applying. Maybe the most frustrating part was that when I did get one of those instance of insight, of, "Oh, yeah, hey, that makes sense!" it just added to my certainty that I was missing out on a treasure.

Our teacher told us that Philip Yancey reads this book over and over again. Heck, if someone as intelligent and perceptive as Yancey rereads this book, maybe I'm not so bad off, not catching onto much of anything the first time through. I'll have to read it again. I know there's a lot to learn -- a lot of guidance in apologetics, in organizing my thinking, helping me figure out what I believe and why. Just wait until the bruises have faded, okay?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: The Mark of Athena

Third book in the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordin.

The fun continues, only there's a deadline to meet -- literally. They have to rescue Hazel's brother, Nico, before he runs out of air and dies. Even being the son of Pluto/Hades won't protect him from death. Then there's the problem with a bunch of angry Roman demigods on their tails. Seems there was a problem when some malevolent spirits took over Leo just long enough for him to turn the weapons of the Argo II on the Roman camp. NOT a good way to make friends and influence enemies....

And of course the usual problems left sitting for centuries, that the Greco-Roman gods created and never fixed. It just doesn't pay to be a demigod, you know? Percy and his allies are left once again with cleaning up after their parents -- who are having some psychological breakdowns and are incommunicado or whatever their latest excuse is.

I love this series, even when I get sarcastic. Of course, part of my attitude could be that I have to wait until this FALL for the next installment. Not fun. Write faster, dear author?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: SON OF NEPTUNE

I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Percy Jackson books. This new series, expanding the "universe" of the demi-gods of Camp Half-Blood just proves that Rick Riordan knows what he's doing.

I was ready to wait until this book came out in paper, but a few weeks ago Nook had some great ebook deals, so I stocked up. (Book 3 in the series, along with Book 2 and 3 of the Kane Family Chronicles) Despite the rule I gave myself that I had to clear off a bookshelf before I could buy new ones ... Well, it's not like I bought more books to put ON the shelf, right?

SON OF NEPTUNE, Book 2 in the Heroes of Olympus, features Percy. (Book 1 featured Jason Grace, the son of Jupiter) He is not a happy camper. Literally. It seems someone has wiped his memory, although he gets flashes of memory from time to time, enough to make him sure he is NOT where he belongs. He finds himself among Roman demi-gods, a very military version of Camp Half-Blood, and it seems like everyone is out to get him. There are new friends with dark pasts and untapped powers, nasty immortals and unclear prophecies getting in the way. You just know things are not right when the augury sacrifices teddy bears to see the future. Riordan writes a fast-paced, exciting book, with some moments of snickering and cultural asides. Such as Amazon being run by ... well ... Amazons!

I'm about 50 pages into the 3rd book, MARK OF ATHENA. Can't wait to see what happens next. And of course, that's next week's book report!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: NELL'S COWBOY

This is the third and the last of the Heart of Texas romances by Debbie Macomber that I picked up at a book sale in the mall. I wish I had found the other 3 titles.

Well, at least the mystery of the ghost town of Bitter End got solved!

This episode in the town of Promise, Texas, features Nell, who has been widowed several years now, and Travis, a YA writer. He's come to town to follow up a story about the ghost town. As luck would have it, the rodeo is in town and every room is taken. Fortunately, Nell is just about to turn her ranch into a dude ranch, and Travis becomes her first customer. Her kids take to him, and despite herself, Nell takes to Travis, too. Although she's a little hurt when he presses to learn about Bitter End, and doesn't listen when it seems everyone in town warns him to leave the place alone ... well, their hearts have other ideas. This is a nice second chance story, a family romance, and ties up some loose strings in the saga of Promise, Texas. Plus it's fun getting glimpses into the lives of the other couples we've met along the way.

Debbie always delivers. And I gotta make a note to find the other 3 books and fill in those holes in my bookshelf!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: DR. TEXAS

Here is the 2nd of the 3 Heart of Texas books by Debbie Macomber.

Kinda like potato chips, y'know? Once you start reading 1 book in a connected series, you want to read them all. It's fun seeing people you've "met" in other stories, as their relationships progress, and scoundrels who caused problems in previous books finally get their comeuppance a book or two later.

In DR. TEXAS, we meet Jane Dickinson and Cal Patterson. Jane is a new doctor who is working off her student loans with a commitment to Promise, Texas for 3 years. After that, her family plans on her coming back to California and going into practice with her uncle. It's what they've planned for her since medical school. The only problem is, nobody really asked Jane if that was what she wanted -- and she never really asked herself until now.

Then there's Cal Patterson. A few years ago, he was all set to get married. But his bride decided she didn't want to stay in Promise, and when he wouldn't follow her plans, she called it all off 2 days before the wedding, leaving Cal to pick up the pieces and apologize to everybody and return the presents. He's kind of soured on romance, and women in general -- especially the ones who have other places they'd rather be. So when he finds himself softening up and falling for the girl who everybody knows is leaving at the end of 3 years ... see the problem?

There are bits and pieces of other people's stories scattered through this book -- and doggone it, now I have to find the ones in the series I don't have, because I want to see all the excitement everybody else is still talking about!

Stay tuned for the 3rd installment in this series, next week!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: LONESOME COWBOY

Don't you love used book sales? Either the Friends of the Library sale, where no matter how big or old or new the book is, paperbacks are 25 cents and hardbacks are 50 -- or the ones where people set up tables in the center of the mall and you wander up and down haphazard aisles, looking at whatever people are offering. That's where I got the next few books I"ll be reporting on. I have 3 books in Debbie Macomber's Hearts of Texas series.

LONESOME COWBOY is a sweet, quiet story, and introduces several characters in the local community who I hope get their own romances before I'm done reading -- and make me wish I had found all the Hearts of Texas books, because if I don't read their stories, I think I'm going to be disappointed. Well, that's just what Debbie Macomber does with her stories. Once she introduces people, you want to know, "And? Did they live happily ever after?"

Savannah and Laredo, the main characters of COWBOY are two people who have given up on love. Who have decided to be content with other dreams in their lives. And just as they think they're getting what they "really" want, his truck breaks down and she drives by and offers him a ride and love sneaks up and ambushes them both. Of course there's the gruff, overburdened, overprotective older brother who has both feet in his mouth when it comes to saying what he's feeling, and who tries his best and keeps irritating the woman he wants to think well of him. And the interfering, gossipy biddies in town. And other characters who make the town of Promise, Texas solid and real -- and make you want to come back for more.

Anything by Debbie Macomber is worth the sit-down -- and worth whatever you pay for the book. They're always keepers.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: OUT ON A LIMB

Is there anything more down-home than a romance in farm country?

Gail Gaymer Martin comes through, as always, with a touching, sweet romance, with a light touch of the Hatfields and McCoys. This novel was a freebie picked up at a book exchange -- don't ask me where or when!

Karen and Eric met many years ago, when they were children visiting their grandparents' farms. Now they're adults, in transition times in their careers, in their lives.

Their grandfathers are feuding, and Karen and Eric keep coming face to face as they try to rein in these cantankerous old poops, constantly playing childish, nasty little tricks on each other. As the tricks escalate, becoming downright irritating (such as putting "for sale by owner" signs on each other's home or car!), Karen and Eric keep getting distracted from resolving their own problems. And figuring out just what they feel about each other.

Gail always comes through with a fun story that gives her characters a chance to shine -- even when they're being nasty, overgrown kids. If you want a light, quick read that will leave you smiling, go for it!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: NORTHANGER ABBEY

Why, you may ask, am I reviewing a book that has probably been discussed to death by reviewers and literary types, ad nauseum?

Because, dear readers, this ain't your granny's Jane Austen!

Yes, this IS Jane Austen's NORTHANGER ABBEY.

But it's Marvel Comics' version. Five issues, published between 2011 and 2012. Sometimes I had to take issue with the ... umm ... caricatures of the characters. Honestly, the exaggerations of expression were funny, sometimes not even human. How dare they treat Jane Austen with such a cavalier lack of respect? But then I thought, hey, I loved "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," so who am I to point fingers?

You can't turn a classic like a Jane Austen book into a comic book without LOVING the story -- so it wasn't lack of respect. More along the lines of "sacred cow makes good hamburger."

I'm still going to read the whole book one of these days. For now, I can honestly say I know enough about the story to want more. If you don't have the TIME to devote to a classic novel, you might want to consider the comic book version, just as an introduction.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: SMITTEN

Perfect title!

Read this collection of four interconnected romances by these four fun authors, and you'll be smitten yourself! I think I picked up this book in the freebie room at RT in Chicago. Perfect place to find a romance novel, don't you think?

Colleen Coble, Kristin Billerbeck, Diann Hunt and Denise Hunter were already writing friends. Now they're co-conspirators, creating the charming, quirky must-be-saved town of Smitten.

The word is that the four heroines of the four novellas in this collection are alter egos of our four authors. If that's true ... I wish they were my writing friends. Brainstorming meetings must be a blast!

What's the book about? Essentially, Smitten is in deep trouble -- the mill is closing and without some quick thinking and a new industry, the town will shrivel up and blow away. Enter our four heroines, Natalie, Shelby, Julia and Reese. Their solution? Capitalize on the town's name and turn it into a destination town for romance. While they're renovating Smitten -- and dragging the menfolk, kicking and screaming into the new, romantic version -- each of our heroines gets some renovations in their own love lives.

Major fun. Curl up with a bag of your favorite chocolate and a few handy tissues and prepare for a charming read with smiles, giggles, sighs, some "awwww" moments, and even a few tears.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Off the Book Shelf: SHADES OF DARK

Well, so far, so good. I've been keeping up with my vow -- barely -- to read one book every week of this new year. And be accountable to those of you perusing this blog, by reporting every Monday morning on what I've read.

I'm going to be reporting on a gob of books that have been sitting for years, waiting to be read. I have, on last count, over 130 books in my to-be-read bookrack. I'm trying (and it's painful, believe me) not to buy a new book until I clear off at least 1 of the 4 shelves. Yeah, it hurts when I finally read a book that's been sitting for a while, and I want to buy the next book in the series and keep the "oh, wow, yeah, why-did-I-wait-so-danged-long-to-read-this-one?" feeling going.

Such is the case with SHADES OF DARK, sequel to GABRIEL'S GHOST, by award-winning, always-delivers, SF romance author Linnea Sinclair.

You thought Captain Chaz and Sully got themselves out of a star cruiser's worth of trouble at the end of GABRIEL and deserved a breather? No such luck! If anyone knows how to torment her H/H and make the readers hang onto their chairs and groan and cheer and bite their nails (which makes it hard to hold onto the book!), this is the lady.

Let's see. Chaz is a disgraced (framed) commander in the Fleet. Sentenced to a prison planet, where her enemies intend her to die. She gets rescued by Sully, who she --and a lot of the universe -- thought was dead. Hence the title of the first book. They set off across the galaxy in a sweet little starship that changes identities more often than the Crawley girls change their dresses during Downton Abbey. Sully has a lot of secrets, the biggest one being he's a rare human telepath. He's got members of his own family out to destroy him. The story keeps going in SHADES, as Chaz and Sully and their crew follow up on what they found out in the first book. It's ugly, folks. Treachery on every hand -- including their own crew. Prejudice and genocide, betrayal, and allies who are worse than their enemies.

Not gonna tell you any more than that. Except the expected: You gotta read this book! There are more books in the series, and I highly recommend you get your paws on ALL of them before you sit down to read, because you're gonna want to go from one to the next. I'm going to have a HUGE to-be-bought list by the time I'm allowed to buy more books. It's going to be painful waiting until I can read the next in the series. But why should you suffer? You don't have to. So don't.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Off the Book Shelf: MARRIED IN SEATTLE

What can you expect from Debbie Macomber? A heartwarming romance with some smiles.

(This copy was picked up at a used book fair at the mall -- evidenced by 2 hand-written price stickers, as well as a used bookstore stamp. Wow, this book got around! Well, it can stop wandering now -- I hold onto ALL the Debbie Macomber books that come my way.)

MARRIED IN SEATTLE is actually two novellas, both about the frustrations of two couples who never would have chosen each other -- and most likely never would have found each other -- except for some well-meaning, irritating, know-it-all, smug, stubborn interference from those who love them best.

I had to chuckle, reading about Janine and Zach, who are put together by her grandfather/his business partner. The more they tried to work together to convince her grandfather that they do not belong together -- that they don't even like each other -- the more they are drawn together.

Maybe if they had used email to communicate, the campaign would have worked better?

Then there are Meg and Steve. Her daughter and his sister placed lonely hearts ads for them, and then compounded the deception by answering as them. Suddenly Meg found herself on a first date with a man she didn't even know existed until an hour before.

And the rest is history.

If you want to relax with a fun, sweet read, this book is a good choice. Debbie always delivers!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: WYRD WRAVINGS

Anthologies. Love 'em or hate 'em? Depends on what the theme is... I suppose the whole purpose of anthologies is to give you a taste of a writer's style and maybe a series of books he or she is known for, so you go look for more.

WYRD WRAVINGS is an anthology of SF/F put out by Echelon Press, that I got as a prize at the Intergalactic Bar and Grill "party," hosted by Linnea Sinclair, at Romantic Times last year in Chicago. Mega-fun party. Way too short. The SF trivia game was inspired. And all the door prizes of goodies ... some silly, some great -- and delicious. (You had to be there!)

Not enough room to give you an idea of the 10 very, very different stories by 10 very, very different authors. But I had fun reading them. Wrapping my mind around them. And struggling through the "Huh?" moment when my brain had to shift gears -- quickly -- from one universe to another. A few that stand out in my mind is the hard-up-for-money time traveler who sold a dune buggy to King Tut -- or the author having major problems with his characters, who keep threatening to talk with their union rep -- or something that could only be described as desperate, unappreciated housewives meet a pyramid scheme meet an intergalactic travel agency ...

If you want a short vacation from reality, no matter what your taste is in spec fic, you'll probably find it in this book. Thanks to: Margaret Bailey, Ellen Dawn Benefield, Linda DeMeulemeester, Karen Duvall, Lazette Gifford, Lynn David Hebert, Kfir Luzatto, Janet Miller, Candace Sams, and Marc Vun Kannon.

On a side note: I'm now part of the Barn Door blog. Check it out, for insights and humor and other assorted offerings. A different blogger every day. My day is the 19th of every month. But like with an anthology, no matter what your tastes, you'll probably find something you like!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: THE SILVER SWORD

If you've read any of the books I've written, you know I like tough chicks. My very FIRST published book was of a woman warrior. So when Angela Hunt came out with a series of books featuring the female descendants of a heroic woman warrior ... Well, wouldn't you wonder if I DIDN'T read it?

THE SILVER SWORD, by Angela Elwell Hunt, is the first book about the heirs of Cahira O'Connor.

All of them are marked with red hair, with a streak of white.

The stories are framed by the research and quest of the modern-day daughter of Cahira, Kathleen O'Connor ... who is somewhat dismayed when she starts to realize that she might just be caught up in the legacy Cahira left for her descendants.

As always, Angela Hunt tells a good story. No matter what genre she journeys through. She's one of those authors I admire -- nay, envy! -- because she breaks the rules. Everywhere writers go in writing conferences and workshops, we're being told we have to stick with ONE genre, because we don't want to confuse our readers. That readers who pick up our historical romances won't be pleased when the next book is a futuristic shoot-em-up with nary a speck of romance in it. Angela Hunt writes what she darn well pleases and her readers gladly follow along and gulp it down as soon as they can.

I wanna be Angie Hunt when I grow up!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: BLISS

C.S. Lewis once said that a good book is one that you enjoy as an adult as well as in childhood. I like reading YA books -- and not just because I write YA. There's a lot of fun and imagination and possibilities, and I enjoy going back and rediscovering books I originally found in the junior high library. Of course, I read The Odyssey in 7th grade, so you can't really judge by my experiences ...


BLISS, by Kathryn Littlewood, was a book I picked up recently from Nook's Free Book Fridays. It looked like a lot of fun -- and proved to more than live up to its PR.

What's it about?
Baking, and magic, and kids who are conned and get into trouble while their parents are away.

But oh ... so much MORE than that!

The setting: The Bliss Bakery -- perfect name for a bakery, don't you think? -- in a town called Calamity Falls. The parents, Purdy and Albert, have a talent for bakery that not only suits the current needs, but seems to magically fix all sorts of ... problems. When they head off to another town to help stem a terrible flu epidemic, the kids are left to help run the bakery: Ty (Thyme), Rose (Rosemary), Sage, and Leigh (Parsley). Anyone hearing strains of Simon and Garfunkle music?

Barely has the sound of the departing car engine faded from the air when Aunt Lily drives up on her motorcycle. Rose is the only one who is suspicious about this conveniently appearing relative that they never really heard about, but even she is taken in by Aunt Lily's glamour and charm.

Things get ... hmm ... interesting when the kids decide to use the family's magical cook book to fix some problems, and some problematic people, in town. The magical ingredients are clever and the kids show their potential for future escapades and brilliant futures -- if they survive -- by how they reason through their dilemmas. The ending makes me think there are more adventures for the Bliss family, especially since they have to deal with the fallout of Aunt Lily's duplicity and schemes.

More, please? I will definitely be on the lookout for more Bliss Bakery stories from Kathryn Littlewood!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: THE LIGHT PRINCESS

Today's book is a classic.
I can remember reading this in picture book format in the children's section of the Berea Library, way back ... well, long enough ago I don't want to date myself!
Funny, but there's a whole lot more to this story I definitely did not remember reading in the picture book.

THE LIGHT PRINCESS is a faerie tale -- at least, on one level. It's also a tale of redemption, sacrifice, and ... learning the proper sort of gravity.

George MacDonald is perhaps better known for his novels AT THE BACK OF THE NORTH WIND and PHANTASTES, as well as being a major influence on C.S. Lewis. THE LIGHT PRINCESS is a very small book. Easily read in a few hours. But I guarantee, you're going to want to reread it several times to savor it and look back and see some of the story in a new light. I obtained this book in free e-book format through Project Google. Yeah, that means the book has been around a long while. Like I said, a classic!

What's it about? Well, it starts out like any faerie tale -- a long-awaited birth to a king and queen. A christening where the last person you want to insult isn't invited. Some magic. A curse. And of course, a handsome prince who has wandered into the country quite by accident.

Instead of being cursed to prick her finger and sleep forever, or talk gibberish, or have to marry a troll to save the kingdom or a thousand other totally bizarre curses faerie tale princesses have to endure, this one steals the princess's gravity. Meaning she rarely sets foot on the ground, but floats through life. And she doesn't take much of anything seriously. And doesn't cry. That doesn't sound so bad, does it? But consider how frustrating it is to live with someone who takes nothing seriously, and doesn't seem to care about anyone.

Well, yeah, there are a lot of people like that in today's world, but they made themselves that way. And if you think about it, such people might look and sound happy, but listen and watch them long enough, and you realize they aren't. Happy, that is. You need tears to appreciate laughter, and grief to enjoy happiness.

Read the book. You'll love it. And you'll keep it to read again.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Off the Bookshelf: BITTERSWEET

Ever have a book sitting on your shelf -- and even though it obviously doesn't have eyes, you can feel it watching you? Pleading for you to pick it up? Maybe glaring at you if you've left it sitting long enough? Maybe you can even hear a little voice, at times pleading, at times whining, "Come on! You've read other books by my writer. I promise, I'm just as good. Maybe better!"

BITTERSWEET, by Cathy Marie Hake, has been sitting in my to-be-read book rack (three shelves, plus an overflow on the floor) since our local Borders went out of business. I know I bought it at that Borders because there's a line of black marker on the bottom of the pages where the clerk drew it, to make sure I couldn't take it to another store and return it. Go figure ....

Like the other two books by Cathy that I've read (is it uncouth to be on a first-name basis with someone I've never actually met? I feel like she's a friend, after three books now...), FANCY PANTS and FOREVERMORE, BITTERSWEET is charming and heartbreaking and funny and makes you think in all the right spots.

How the heck does she do that? I'm still trying to figure that out, after all the books that I've written. Sometimes I get it right on, other times ... well, the less said, the better!

This is a love story more than a romance. Girl-next-door-finally-gets-noticed-by-the-noble-eldest-son-taking-care-of-the-family-after-his-father's-death. Laney and Galen have known each other all their lives, with his family's farm sharing a border and fence with her family's ranch. She knew long ago that Galen was the man for her, but the problem was that Galen always saw her as his best friend's pesky little sister.

This is a story in the days just before the Civil War. The rumblings from Lincoln's election are just filtering across the country to California, where the story takes place. Think of the social changes and small town atmosphere, loyalty and in-fighting and oblivious, judgmental gossips that you saw in shows like Young Riders, Dr. Quinn, Bonanza, and Little House on the Prairie, and you have a good idea of the world Laney and Galen are living in.

The day Laney has prayed for finally arrives: Galen realizes she's a woman grown. More important, he's kicking himself for not noticing sooner, and he immediately goes to her older brother to get his blessing for courting Laney. Yes, indeed, Galen is a man of honor.

And when squatters settle on Galen's property, they cause volumes of trouble, bringing dangerous elements to town, as well as damaging his honor and reputation before things are all sorted out. Laney endures heartbreak and learns the hard lesson of putting aside her dreams and trusting in God. Galen learns patience, and also learns joy in submitting to God's will, even when it means showing love to the ones who hurt him the most.

Read it, and settle in with a box of tissues and a box of chocolate. You'll need them both!

I'm still kicking myself for not reading this book sooner. Of course, if I had, I wouldn't be sharing it with you now, would I?

Hmmm, lesson to be learned ...

Monday, January 14, 2013


Last night, I stayed up until nearly midnight to finish this book. Because the other book I read this week ... well, to paraphrase a friend of mine, my reaction was "meh." Meaning I wouldn't waste my time talking about it, much less boring you with it. I mean, yeah, I like the author, but this was an early work of hers and not up to par with her recent stuff.

'Nuff said.

This week's book is a group-authored novella (80 pages), BUT WHO WOULD BE DUMB ENOUGH TO EVEN TRY IT?, offered by Marcher Lord Press. What makes it interesting is that it is a "shared universe" book. Meaning literature by committee. But don't run in fear -- that made the book interesting, not a gray, soggy cardboard landscape that so much else of "art by committee" offers.

As the intrepid publisher, Jeff Gerke, explains in the introduction, it all started with a picture. A picture he wanted to create. One of those enlightenment moments where people are puzzling over a problem and someone walking by makes a comment that turns the floodlights on, so to speak, and everyone's faces say, "Oh, yeah, of course." Well, that's my paraphrase of his explanation, anyway.

So after he created this image -- you gotta at least look for the story so you can see the picture -- he realized that it needed a story to go with it. So he turned to his stable of equally intrepid Marcher Lord Press authors. They must have had a fun old time coming up with maps and histories, magical rules, characters and backgrounds and the plot, because only when you have fun with all the prep work can a story hang together so well. And it works. Although I do have a couple questions that I'm really, really, really hoping will be answered by another story to follow up on our band of heroes. (Oh, Jeff .... hint, hint!)

The story? Your basic evil despot condemned to an eternity in a magical fortress, who is working his way around the spells and guardians and getting ready to break out of his prison. Then along comes our band of heroes -- they don't realize they're heroes yet, because all they see is the magical talisman inside the fortress that will make them incredibly rich. If they can get it out of the fortress without having their souls and bodies destroyed ala the opening-the-ark scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Because guess what? The talisman is what keeps the evil despot IN the fortress.

Like they say, the journey is everything, so I'm not going to tell you who and how. Get the story and read it. Like me, you'll have some questions, and a hankering for the next adventure.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Off the Book Shelf: THRONE OF GLASS

One of my goals for this year is to read at least ONE book every week.

So, I want you to keep me accountable. If a book report doesn't show up here every Monday, contact me and ask, okay?

I have a LOT of books I need to take off my book shelf!

Here's the first book I've read in the new year:

Sarah J. Maas

This was one of the Free Book Fridays books from Barnes & Noble. I'm glad I downloaded it!

Essentially, Celaena Sardothien, a "mere" girl of 18, is a notorious assassin. Problem: She was betrayed and captured, and has spent far too long enslaved in a death camp, the Salt Mines of Endovier. Too long, because most people are simply expected to die, either from the conditions, abuse, or trying to escape. First hint that Celaena is one tough chick, in body and mind.

Then one day, she is dragged out of the depths of the mines and comes face-to-face with Dorian, Crown Prince of Adarlan. He has a proposition: compete to become King's Champion. If she wins, she will serve 4 years, then have her freedom. If she loses, back to Endovier she goes. Problem: many courtiers are entering competitors, and they're the scum of the earth, thieves and mercenaries, assassins and brutes.

Celaena accepts his proposal -- what other choice does she have? As she regains her strength and learns to navigate on the fringes of the court, she learns that even though magic has been outlawed by the king, it's not all gone. Someone is cheating. Someone is murdering. And then there's all that disgusting court intrigue she has to deal with. Everybody is a liar. Including Celaena -- because there are things in her past, secrets she has forgotten through trauma, or chosen to forget for the sake of survival.

I certainly hope the author comes out with another book to answer some of the questions left hanging at the end of this story! There is a list of short e-reads at the back of the book, prequels to this one. I'm very tempted to download them.

When my to-be-read list is a little bit shorter..........