Monday, December 29, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: The Christmas Traditions Series: AN APPLE FOR CHRISTMAS and CHRISTMAS LESSONS

Love at Christmas, with touches of humor and hurt, growth, historical settings, and charm.

There are more short stories in this series than the two I read, which I got from Amazon. Both were charming, quick reads, in different locations and time periods, with different challenges for the heroines and the heroes to overcome, but both were set in schools. I don't know enough about the series to know if all the stories were set in schools in different periods of history, but it might just be worth buying the rest of the stories to find out!

CHRISTMAS LESSONS intrigued me because the heroine is physically challenged -- not going to tell you how -- and part of her problem is proving she is just as able as everyone around her. She and the hero have a past. Will love help them get over their differences and old pain? AN APPLE FOR CHRISTMAS is set in Vermont and deals largely with apple farming, an apple farmer, and education for females.

Charming. I wasn't able to read very many Christmas stories in time for Christmas, but who says you have to limit reading stories set at Christmas to just Christmas time? If you don't have a lot of time for reading, look for these. Small bites can be just as satisfying as full-length stories.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: TITANIUM by Linda Palmer

Today's Spotlight book hasn't officially hit the bookshelves yet.

TITANIUM, by fellow Uncial Press author Linda Palmer, is due to be released in February.

You can pre-order Uncial Press books from Amazon and Kobo and Nook and iBooks -- I believe -- so it might be a good idea to put this on your wish list and ask for it before it's officially out.

Yeah, it's that good.

Part suspense, part romance, part sociological treatise on fandom and the wounded warriors phenomenon ... there's a lot of book packed into its mere 180 pages.

Riley is our heroine, a college student working a frustrating job for the proverbial boss from heck. Some jerk customers at the taco stand target her -- jerks dressed up as zombies.

Fortunately for her, Zander, a vet who lost a leg, has a sixth sense for danger. He notices the zombies watching Riley and leaps into action. Despite his better judgment, their lives are soon intertwined. Which is a good thing when Riley's estranged father enrages some lunatic fringe fans of his cult classic comic book, "Titanium," and they -- yep, you guessed it, the zombies -- strike out at Riley to ... well, you're just gonna have to read the book to find out what's going on and why.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: MANIPULATIONS, Shifters Book 1 by Audie Thacker

If you haven't picked up on it yet, I belong to ACFW -- American Christian Fiction Writers. I also belong to the Speculative group -- those of us who write outside the box of what you'd expect from faith-focused writers. Of course, we count C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein among our forefathers, so ...

On the Speculative group, Audie Thacker announced his new book was free, and it had shapeshifters in it -- and you know I've got shapeshifters (the Hoveni) in my Commonwealth Universe --so yeah, I was interested!

This is an intricately wrought world, with clashing empires and elves and magic and evil schemes and revenge and long-range plots and feisty princesses and warriors with wounded souls and ... whew!

Make sure you have big chunks of time when you sit down to read, because this is one of those books where you want to take it in big gulps, not little nibbles. There are a lot of details and characters to keep track of -- gee, it feels like a real world. An impressive offering, and because it's Book 1, there's a lot more to come. If you like "this kind of stuff," then check it out! I got my copy from Amazon.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: NO DAWN FOR MEN, by James LePore and Carlos Davis

Sometimes you read a book blurb and your immediate reaction is WHATTTTT??????

Part of you immediately insists, "No way." And another part says, "I gotta read this. It's just too ..." And you can't finish that statement because you're not sure what it's "too" of ...

NO DAWN FOR MEN takes J.R.R. Tolkein (Hobbit, LOTR) and Ian Fleming (Bond, James Bond) and tosses them into pre-WWII Nazi Germany for a little Indiana Jonesing ....

When I mentioned it on my Speculative group on Facebook, one person's reaction was to picture Gandalf walking into the Prancing Pony and asking for a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred. Or Gollum doing a Goldfinger speech.

Bottom line: FUN read. Very clever. A few spots where you want to say, "Okay, so that's where the author got the idea" for that character/event/detail in one or another of their famous books. Then a moment later you say, "Uh, wait a minute, that never happened!" I don't want to give anything away, but there's a search for a dangerous item that Hitler wants, that has to be destroyed, and the person carrying it is worn down by the burden, and a beautiful girl, and daredevils and nasty villains and ... READ IT.

I really, really hope the authors weren't playing with us, and I wasn't reading too much into a casual line, and there will be another adventure of Prof. Tolkein and Mr. Fleming.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: ESTHER by Norah Lofts

Another book read long, long ago -- as I recall, I got it from the Middleburg Heights Library several times during junior high and high school -- which I obtained through that place that makes it so easy to yield to temptation, Alibris.

How Alibris works is it connects you with probably thousands of used bookstores and other such vendors around the world, listing the book or movie or music you want, the prices charged by the vendor, and the names of the vendor. So if you have 6 copies of a book at 6 different vendors, and you have another book you want with 15 copies at 15 different vendors ... common sense says to save on shipping charges and get both books from the same vendor, if possible.

Anyway ....

ESTHER is, as the title makes clear, the story of the Hebrew girl who becomes Queen of Persia through what was essentially a beauty contest. From her story comes the phrase, "for such a time as this," meaning you may be in the position you're in, whether good or bad, to fulfill a specific purpose in God's plan. I was surprised to realize this story of intrigue, politics, revenge and a dash of romance, was written in the 50s. A well-told story never goes out of style.

The author doesn't stick strictly to the facts listed in the Bible, but it's easy to forgive her. The gist of the story carries through. I was delighted to finally get my hands on a copy to put in my library, and reread again in the future.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: LIFTER by Crawford Killian

Ever have a book you really enjoyed a long time ago, enough that you remember the title and the author, but you can't find it now?

That was the situation with LIFTER, by Crawford Killian. An Ace book from the "classic" period when so many good, smaller books just came out constantly.

Problem: Alibris and other online used bookstores are DEADLY. I'm talking dangerous. I'm talking almost any book you're looking for, at any price. If you're willing to pay it. I bought two old books I've been wanting to re-read for years, for 99 cents each ... but the postage and handling was ... well, not a problem, per se, but I really hesitated to pay more for postage than I paid for the books. Worth it, though!

What's LIFTER about? A boy dreams of flying ... and when he wakes up, he's floating 2 feet above his bed. He learns how to turn on the Lift Effect and then how to teach his girlfriend how to do it, and then his ability starts changing his life. He goes through lots of questions and concerns, such as whether it's dangerous to teach the rest of the world his new ability, whether he should keep it quiet, and whether the rest of the world will let him keep it quiet.

Fun book. Read it if you can find it!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: HOW TO DEVELOP STORY TENSION by Amy Deardon

Wanna keep readers turning the page, but can't figure out how to make the insertion of tension feel natural and work for your story?

Amy Deardon lays out simple techniques, with examples, in this short, useful book. This is her newest writing book -- at least, it was when I got it! -- and just came out this year.

Her introduction says it all:
"You can write your novel with perfect sentences, and deliver heartbreakingly beautiful descriptions containing profound metaphors, but if you don't have tension in your story your reader is likely at any moment to put it down.
"There are three fundamental reasons your story may not have tension:
"1. The narrative does not have an Outer Story
"2. The narrative's story arrow from the Outer Story is not clearly articulated.
"3. The narrative's story arrow is not moving forward.
"This ebook explores practical methods, including an amazing five minute trick that you can use to automatically develop tension in your writing."

Get it, read it, and start applying the exercises and tips. At the very least, you'll start looking at your scenes and the sagging middle of your book a little differently. Who knows? While you're reading, you might start getting brainstorms about the story you're working on right now ...

Monday, November 10, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: THE WITNESS by Nora Roberts

Half Price Books is a great place. Because, yes, you get books cheap -- and because I can take books I know I won't read again and turn them in for some cash and to "set them free" so someone else can enjoy them.

Last week, I treated myself to THE WITNESS, by Nora Roberts. Elizabeth is the brilliant daughter of a controlling, brilliant, emotionless mother. She had Elizabeth's life planned for her before she chose a sperm donor. At sixteen going on seventeen, Elizabeth has finally tasted freedom and realizes she doesn't want her mother's life -- instead of being a surgeon, she wants to work for the CIA or FBI. When she stands her ground, her mother simply leaves on her business trip instead of arguing -- leaving Elizabeth alone in the house for a few days, certain her daughter will follow the schedule planned for her and report for advanced summer classes.

Elizabeth packs years of rebellion into one day, starting with cutting and dying her hair, going shopping, trying makeup for the first time, forging I.D.s for herself and a girl from school, and going to a nightclub -- a nightclub owned by members of the Russian Mob. That night she witnesses a murder and her entire life changes from that moment.

As always, Nora creates "real" characters you have to care about, nasty side characters you want to see squashed oh, so badly, along with testing and trials that help her characters grow and triumph. I was so glad to find this book at Half Price Books. I've wanted to read this one, and hey, I can justify a new book at such a great price -- even if my to-be-read bookshelf isn't clearing off as quickly as I'd like it ...

Monday, November 3, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: TAKEDOWN TWENTY by Janet Evanovich

Okay, I confess -- I read two Stephanie Plum books in a row. I earned the relaxing and laughing time after the hard summer of working and writing that I had.

This book was well worth the wait (for time to read, as well as waiting for it to come out in paper -- hey, my bookshelves are running out of space! Paperbacks take up less space. Yes, I know I advocate e-books, but I started this series in paper and I want to keep the "set" together, know what I mean?).

In TWENTY, Stephanie has a HUGE problem -- hunting down a mobster character who happens to be her cop boyfriend's godfather, a member of Grandma Bella's family -- and you don't want to get on Bella's bad side. Joe's grandmother is a mean old lady who'll give you the "eye" and destroy your life. And she just keeps coming after Stephanie. Just like the hoods who are trying to discourage her from finding their boss -- even to the point of throwing her off a bridge!

And that's just the beginning of the insanity. Poor Stephanie -- she's finally come to the point of agreeing with her mother, that she needs a new job. But of course, being Stephanie Plum, that doesn't exactly .... work out.

If you have a big chunk of time to stretch out on the couch and just read, do it with this book. You won't want to put it down. I read until past midnight several nights in a row, and only closed the book because my eyes were closing!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: NOTORIOUS NINETEEN, by Janet Evanovich

I love Stephanie Plum -- especially when I haven't read one of her stories in a looooong time. The silliness and the "what is WRONG with my life?" attitude underlying the narrative voice is great fun. Relaxing. A treat. A reward for working hard the last few months.

Janet Evanovich struck gold when she created Stephanie Plum -- the bounty hunter from the Burg, with the big hair, who hates guns and has no domestic skills, caught between the bad-boy-turned-cop and the ex-Special Forces security specialist. Yeah, the girl who trashes more cars in one book than a smash-up derby.

In NINETEEN, Stephanie is trying to catch a man who vanished from the hospital following surgery and embezzling from a nursing home. Plus someone is out for Ranger's neck and he hired Stephanie to help guard a friend who is also a target, during his wedding. The dress Stephanie has to wear as a stand-in bridesmaid is the WORST! Appearances by Grandma Mazur and previous visiting characters are wonderful, as usual.

Want to laugh and be assured your life isn't half as bad as you think? But start with the first book -- people join the storyline and you learn bits and pieces of their lives as you go along. All the insanity aside, the characters and their interactions are the best part of Evanovich's stories.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: LADY OF SPIRIT, by Shelley Adina

And so, we come to the end (wah!) of Shelley Adina's Steampunk adventures.

But only the "end" temporarily -- this is the most recent one. I'm waiting eagerly for the next installment of the adventures of Lady Claire and her gang of alley mice.

In LADY OF SPIRIT, we have Maggie's adventure into discovery of who she really is. In the previous book, we learned Maggie and Lizzie weren't twins, as everyone thought them (different hair and eyes, but otherwise identical) but rather cousins -- daughters of sisters, born within weeks of each other. Lizzie had some disappointment -- and danger -- when she met her father, but resolved the problem in true Lizzie fashion, with some help from Lady Claire. Now, the sister/cousins journey to meet their grandparents ... and things are definitely not what they seem. Poor Maggie is given several different stories of who her father might be, and finds her grandparents punishing her for a crime she didn't commit. And what's worse, her grandparents maintain a crime was committed by and against her mother, and they're punishing her for that, too. Villains from previous books show up with even more incredible gadgets -- submarines, anyone? -- and some sinister plots are foiled and lives nearly sacrificed before the satisfying ending.

Umm, excuse me, Shelley, but could you WRITE FASTER? More, please!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: LADY OF RESOURCES by Shelley Adina

The fifth book in Shelley Adina's Magnificent Devices series is just as much fun as the previous four -- even if she does shift the focus from Lady Claire to the Mopsies.

What can I say? Lots of fun, and opening lots of doors for more stories, and the ability to keep adventuring with characters you've come to love. What more could a reader want?

This time, Lizzie is the heroine. Five years have passed since Claire met and saved the life of Baron Zeppelin and had the opportunities of her dreams handed to her as a reward. The Mopsies, twin sisters Lizzie and Maggie, have profited as well. They are now well-rounded, educated young ladies, graduating from their form at school at the same time Claire is graduating from the university.

Into their life comes a somewhat shady, wealthy man who offers Lizzie answers to some rather large questions from her past: How did she and her sister, at age 5, end up in the Thames with no memories before that night? Where did they come from? Who are their parents? When Lizzie meets the man, strange and disturbing memories start haunting her dreams. She gains some answers and her true identity, but to her dismay she may be forced to leave Maggie behind.

Fear not, all is not lost. Lady Claire comes to the rescue, and the girls' resourcefulness and cleverness and common sense attitudes stand them in good stead. The next book is Maggie's adventure, as she also has a chance to learn who she really is, where she fits into the world and society. Keep reading!!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: BRILLIANT DEVICES, by Shelley Adina

The fourth book in Shelley Adina's Steampunk adventures of Lady Claire starts off with a bang -- the ramshackle airship she is traveling in has major mechanical problems.

No fears. Lady Claire and her band of intrepid companions fix the problem with more ingenuity and brilliance and head off -- finally -- to civilization. There are chores to take care of, including that pesky problem of letting the world know, once again, that she isn't dead. In Edmonton, Claire and company are reunited with their noble, powerful friends and continue on their planned route -- which includes a trip far north to diamond mines and Eskimo (excuse me, Esquimaux) villages.

But all is not well. Sabotage and assassination attempts and social reform all congeal together into an explosive mess. Readers get to meet semi-historical characters, and Claire is caught between two young men determined to win her heart. Plus there's the fun and heartbreak of rough-and-ready Alice trying to learn to fit into high society while struggling to find her father, who vanished years ago.

The only downer in this story? The note from the author that she plans to start writing the adventures of Claire's alley mice companions. (Waaaah!) Never fear, the Lady is still in the stories, she just isn't on camera all the time. Let's hope that the Mopsies are just as clever, independent and full of adventure as their intrepid guardian. (Have I mentioned I really love this series?)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: CONCEALED IN DEATH, by JD Robb

It's my birthday -- okay, it WAS my birthday -- and I bought myself a present. And as a reward for finishing a big revision project and getting my next Quarry Hall book to my publisher on time.

CONCEALED IN DEATH, the latest Eve Dallas book in paper.

Roarke is renovating an old building that was a sanctuary for runaway and troubled youth -- to create a new, better kind of shelter. Because that's just the kind of guy he is, after all the things he and Eve have gone through, learning the brutal secrets of their childhoods. Of course, he gets to take the ceremonial swing with the sledgehammer to start gutting the building. Inside the wall are two bodies, wrapped in plastic. By the time the crime scene team is through investigating, twelve bodies have been found. All young girls. Of course, Lt. Eve Dallas is called in to lead the investigation.

I love this series, and I have to admit, it's the characters, the interplay, the relationships, the inside jokes, the growth in people's personalities ... it's great fun going back and seeing what "old friends" have been up to.

Now I need to get really busy and crush down this craving for the next book in the series, which comes out in hardback soon. I'm trying to be good, and economical, and wait until it comes out in paper. Besides, I have 100+ print books waiting to be read and more than that in e-book format. There's never enough time for books! Make time for this one, though.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: MAGNIFICENT DEVICES by Shelley Adina

Today we're exploring the 3rd book in Shelley Adina's Magnificent Devices series .... appropriately titled MAGNIFICENT DEVICES.

Lady Claire and her ragamuffin charges have fled to America with friends to escape quite a few debacles that ended book two -- starting with breaking her engagement to Lord James. Claire has to get out of there, to escape a man who is a misogynist, thief, liar, cheat, and all around egotistical, self-righteous bully.

Escaping to the wild west of America isn't exactly the escape she wants. The adventurers in their magnificent airship run into pirates -- also in an airship. Claire escapes death, and is presumed dead more than once. Just when she's escaped the frying pan of enemies and thieves and desperados who will stop at nothing for their own profit, she finds she's landed in the fire -- and clutches -- of some old enemies.

Non-stop action, Claire's common sense approach to solving problems, and sometimes being a little too noble for her own good ... major fun. I wish I didn't have books on deadlines and a day job. Otherwise I'd just sit and read until I've devoured the whole series!

Do start at the beginning. You don't want to miss a moment -- especially since the author builds on what happened in previous books to bring about the latest quandary for our intrepid heroine and her no-nonsense, unsinkable, daring companions.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: HER OWN DEVICES, by Shelley Adina

Book Two of the Magnificent Devices series, Steampunk by Shelley Adina.

Lady Claire just keeps going, meeting problems and solving them. She has a job, she is settling in quite nicely with her brood of alley mice and civilizing them, and if she could just evade her mother's plans to marry her off, everything would be peachy.

If only!

Admittedly, she does get herself into a few situations, makes promises and commitments where the reader just sits back and shouts, "No. You'll regret it. Don't do it!" And it doesn't help when Claire knows she's heading for a hard time and resolves that she'll just get out of it when the time is right. (I can't tell you any more details to clear up your confusion, because that would give away the story!)

Suffice to say that I've bought several more books about Lady Claire and can't stop reading. Thank goodness there ARE more books. What a fun addiction. Especially when at the end of this book, it looks like we're heading for a dirigible ride across the ocean, with pirates and tycoons and the Wild West waiting on the other side. Can't wait!

Monday, July 21, 2014

OFF THE BOOKSHELF: Defender of the Departed, by Jeff Young

The sub-title is "A Kassandra Leydon Adventure." This is another free download I got from B&N in my search for Steampunk books and novellas to learn from.

Interesting little story. When I've cleared off my to-be-read shelf and queue, definitely going to look for more adventures of this clever, alert young woman. What's interesting is that this is definitely an "alternate history" world, where it looks like the Revolutionary War didn't take place. I'll have to read more stories about Kassandra to learn more of her world's history.

Kassandra is a young woman discovering she has some paranormal talents. She has a tutor, and sadly learns that he isn't quite what she thought. How she deals with his betrayal is ... satisfying. The hints of what she's going to do with her blooming talent are also fascinating.

I can't tell you anymore, because that would give away large chunks of this short, well-written story. Get it, read it, and if you like this type of sub-genre, you'll probably add this author and character to your "get it" list.

Monday, July 14, 2014

OFF THE BOOKSHELF: Lady of Devices, by Shelley Adina

Whew! Finally worked through an avalanche of work that quite honestly gave me almost no time for reading the last few weeks.

What a treat to have TIME to sit down and just read for pleasure, instead of all the reading involved in making a living.

Even more of a treat to discover a new author and a series I want to keep up with -- in fact, when I finished this book, I got into B&N and bought a couple more books in the series.

LADY OF DEVICES by Shelley Adina is the first book in her Steampunk series about Lady Claire, a modern-minded young lady of the nobility who would rather go to the university and study engineering than attend to her Season and snag a husband ASAP -- the goal of her parents, of course. As she gears up to battle for her freedom and future, her world falls apart around her. The Steampunk world experiences its own version of the stock market crash, and her family loses everything. In short order, Lady Claire is on the run from an angry mob out to punish her family for their losses. She flees for her life, and ends up scrambling for an existence, allied with a handful of "alley mice" -- orphaned or cast-off children from London's streets. Between her technical know-how and their street smarts, they become a gang to be reckoned with, and the tales of the Lady of Devices begin.

FUN series. I bought the book because it was recommended as a grand example of Steampunk writing. I'm buying the rest of the books just because they're good and I like reading them. A great character will take you far. Can't wait to read and report on more adventures of Lady Claire.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: ROMANCE-OLOGY 101 by Julie Lessman

Julie Lessman is a "name" in Inspirational romance, so when the "kissing queen" writes a book on writing romance, you better listen, folks!

The chapters are presented as if she were the teacher -- a somewhat hyper, ruler-wielding, no-gum-in-my-classroom teacher -- in front of her class. Her students happen to be the people she mentions in her acknowledgments page, fellow writers and friends. I'm sure there are a number of inside jokes in some of her comments, and it's funny when she scolds her "students" and at other times tells them not to tell the Principal what she's teaching them.

Liberally sprinkled with examples from her published books, Lessman demonstrates she certainly knows what she's talking about, how to handle relationships and voice and POV and build tension. This is a fun, fast read that I will include in my list of books to re-read on a regular basis, just to brush up on the things I know, with a few chuckles thrown in. I have a few of her books in my to-be-read stack/bookshelf. After reading this book, I'm eager to get through the pile (at last count, 80 on my Kindle, 100-some in the bookshelf, another 100-some on my Nook, and dozens on dozens in iBooks ... *sigh* the pressure of riches!) and get to her stories in particular!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: THE STORY TEMPLATE by Amy Deardon

The subtitle of the book says a lot: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story.

By analyzing the structure of movies and books, Deardon creates the template for a solid book that works. She takes readers step by step through the entire process of creating characters, locations, situations, relationships, plot points ... essentially, assembling the "pieces parts" for a solid foundation and then solid walls and the finishing touches for your book. Each step of the process, she provides exercises to go through. By the end of the book, you're ready to write.

I have to confess, reading through the exercises made me realize I'm a lot more of a "pantser" as a writer than I thought! I discover a lot about my characters, their situations, their problems and goals and secret pains during the process of writing -- first draft, second draft, third draft. But this book is still useful for pantsers, even if the mere thought of doing all the prep work gives them hives -- because the clear, step-by-step explanations and discussions will be helpful in figuring out why their characters aren't cooperating, why the road the story is on just turned into a dead end, and why the ending isn't quite satisfying.

Note: I had the privilege of meeting Deardon at this year's Realm Makers conference, and she said to pass on that it is NOT necessary or required to stick strictly to the book. Use what works for YOU, and feel free to ignore the rest (or save it for future exercises and experiments).

One of these days, when my schedule is a little clearer and I don't have a rough drafted book to revise, I might just take a story idea and try to go through each exercise to put my book together. I might just find I like the process. On the other hand, I might need an industrial strength dose of Benadryl for my hives ... But either way, the learning process will be beneficial and may just give me some new skills or "muscles" as a writer.

READ it, even if you're the ultimate pantser. If you're a plotter, you're going to love it.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: BORN AT MIDNIGHT by C.C. Hunter

YA paranormal series. A new take on the whole vampires/werewolves/other "weird" people living among us theme.

I got this book at a local writing conference I went to, courtesy of the author's publisher. C.C. Hunter was the featured speaker/teacher at the one-day conference -- under her romance writing name of Christie Craig.

She caught my attention, talking about her YA series, how she decided to write it, and her sometimes snarky, sometimes offbeat, self-deprecating sense of humor.

The story? Kylie, a high school girl, feels her life is in the toilet. Her boyfriend dumped her, she's been having horrific nightmares that wake her screaming, she's seeing things (a dead soldier), her parents are divorcing, she went to a party and got picked up by the police and she didn't DO anything ... and now her therapist has recommended her mother send her away to a camp for troubled teens for the summer. And just from the people she meets on the bus going to the camp, this is a weird place.

Of course, the book is all about how Kylie learns why the weird things are happening and just how weird she is among the weird people. It's a fun book, at the same time it deals with some painful issues, and establishes the groundwork for the whole supernatural community. I'm so glad the book is a two-book set, so I can keep reading!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: WRITING LOVE, by Alexandra Sokoloff

Yes, I know I'm breaking the chain of steampunk novels and novellas I've been reading and reporting on, but I've been reading a chapter of this book every morning and finally finished.

I advocate reading writing books on a regular basis just because they present writing principles and techniques from different angles and approaches. Somewhere in there, even if you're reading and re-reading things you already know and are already putting into practice with your writing, somewhere in there will be an "Ah HAH!" moment and you'll get a breakthrough. You'll find a tool you never had before.

The nifty thing about Sokoloff is that she approaches novel writing from screenwriting techniques. She analyzes a large handful of movies, pointing out the patterns they have in common, what makes them good stories, how they control the pace and flow of the story, the various types of characters, the elements of plot that are necessary, and adapts Campbell and Vogler and what they teach about the hero's/author's journey. She gives exercises and homework assignments that you can apply to your current work-in-progress. There's a lot of meat to this book, a lot of common sense advice. Well worth the time to read -- and maybe in a year when you've forgotten some of the principles and exercises, going back through to read again and refresh your brain.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: ABIGAIL ABERNATHY by TR Goodman

Another Steampunk short read, this one has got me hooked on the clever, never-say-die heroine ... in only 19 pages!

The full title is ABIGAIL ABERNATHY: All-Night Analytical Engine Analyst, Volume I.

Analytical engine? Think steam-driven prototype computer, with punch cards and such. I've seen this in several other steampunk stories I've read, so I must assume this is a standard steampunk device.

In essence Abigail is defying convention by working for a living -- she's technically a member of the Geek Squad -- and the story chronicles her first day on the job, taking on a mismanaged analytical engine at a very messy, disorganized company. On top of everything else, she's contending with the attitude of the analytical engine analyst who just lost his job ...

Clever. Great character. Definitely going to look for more adventures of Abigail Abernathy ... as soon as I get this to-be-read pile down a few more inches ....

Monday, May 12, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: CLOCKWORK FAGIN

"Clockwork Fagin," by Cory Doctorow, is the first story in a collection appropriately titled, "Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories" edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant. Only the first story in the anthology was available in the free preview I downloaded on my Nook.

I'm gonna go back and get the whole anthology when I finish all the freebies and samples I downloaded.

What's it about? Well ... think Oliver Twist, but the orphans not only take over the orphanage, they manage to change their horrible servitude and abusive living conditions into a life that children should live. How? Well ... it's kind of gruesome, when you think about it. It starts with a murder -- justified, believe me -- and turns into a puppet show. It gives a fascinating look at what the Industrial Revolution would have looked like if computers and lots of techno-wizardry-gadgetry had been part of it, and all the children who wound up in the poorhouse/workhouse were the castoffs, injured on the job. But their brains remain, even more clever in the quest for survival.

That's all I'm going to tell you. Get the freebie, and then read the rest of the anthology when you get the chance.

Monday, May 5, 2014


The next book in my quest to soak up steampunk is actually a short story by Luke Monroe.

Crimson Overcoat is the former nom de guerre of the hero, Alexander, in this tale that mixes magic and revised history and unusual tech with a drastic revision of the Kris Kringle/Father Christmas mythos.

Alexander is enjoying the lull during the Christmas season, taking advantage of his boss being out of the office so he can indulge in some techno-wizardry work. Of course, that is interrupted when an elf named Holly comes knocking on the office door, looking for a champion. It turns out Kris Kringle isn't the jolly, lovable, benevolent old guy in red that we're used to. At least, not in this alternate history world. Alexander brings the Crimson Overcoat out of retirement and sets off for the North Pole to do battle and save an entire elf family from slavery.

Does he succeed? Does he survive? Read this novella -- free, when I downloaded it from B&N on Nook -- and find out for yourself.

I'm quite enjoying my education in all the many varieties and flavors of steampunk...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: GEARS OF A MAD GOD by Brent Nichols

Warning: I am doing research for a Steampunk series I want to write, so I am reading all the Steampunk books I can get my hands on. (special thanks to the authors who offered their books, short stories, sample chapters for free on B&N -- my Nook has been feeling neglected, up until now!)

GEARS OF A MAD GOD by Brent Nichols is sub-titled: A Steampunk Lovecraft Adventure.

Thank goodness we didn't get a visit from Cthulu (am I spelling it right? ) in this book, but readers get a lot of close encounters from the homicidal lunatics in service to Lovecraft's truly creepy creation.

Colleen is an independent young woman who fixes things -- from clocks to annoying young men to mad pursuers to broken down old factories. An orphan, she is waiting for her young man to propose, but life is interrupted when she gets word that her uncle, her only living relative, has died. As she journeys across Canada of the last century, she receives bits and pieces that make her wonder what is going on. That and several men who keep showing up, following her, then chasing her, or poking their noses into her business ... it's enough to make an independent young woman itch for a wrench to do extremely unladylike things to said irritants. When she finds out the events of the days leading up to her uncle's death, the mystery gets even stranger. If you like tough chicks who are good with wrenches and cogs and steam boilers, this is the novella for you.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: THE SON OF SOBEK by Rick Riordan

Ever wondered what would happen if Carter Kane and Percy Jackson met up?

Rick Riordan gives us a short story of one encounter, and maybe a hint of future stories to come. Or else he's just being a nasty tease, laying the groundwork for two of his heroes from two different stories -- and two different mythologies and cultures -- coming together. And then not DOING anything with it! (Please, don't be cruel! )

Carter from the Kane Chronicles is hunting a giant crocodile before it causes harm to innocent bystanders. He runs into Percy Jackson from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus books, who is doing the same. Since neither side knows that the gods from Greece and Egypt seem to be co-existing in our modern world, they seem to be speaking two different languages, rather than ordinary English ... and that kind of handicaps them in fighting the nasty old croc.

They conclude that someone is out to foment trouble between Greece and Egypt ... but who? I hope Riordan does follow through -- at least with more short stories, if not full-length books.

Monday, April 7, 2014


This book by the editors of Writer's Digest is kind of like a toolbox. Each chapter by a different author deals with different aspects of writing. For instance:

In the CHARACTERS section, you have chapters on "Emotion-Driven Characters" or "Three Techniques for Crafting your Villain."

Under FOCUS ON THE WRITING LIFE you have "Creative Lollygagging: Work Harder at Working Less," or "Beating Writer's Block."

In PLOT AND CONFLICT you have "Story Trumps Structure" or "Rescue Your Story from Plot Pitfalls."

Instead of an entire book focused on one aspect of writing, such as hooks or revision or plotting, this "toolbox" offers nice bite-sized chunks of advice that deal with specific aspects that might just be troubling you in writing your book or short story. Well worth the time to read straight through, and then go back and visit on a regular basis, just to brush up on things.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: A TURN IN THE ROAD by Debbie Macomber

One of the things that makes Debbie Macomber one of my favorite writers is that so many of her books are linked -- meaning that chances are good when you pick up one of her more recent novels you'll run into an old friend. Someone who appeared as a secondary character in a previous book.

In A TURN IN THE ROAD, it's the return of a Blossom Street friend. In a previous book, Bethanne Hamlin was staggering under the breakup of her marriage and fighting to pay the mortgage so she and her children can stay in their home. She launched a business organizing parties, regained her sense of self-worth and discovered talents she had put aside for years for the sake of her husband and family.

Now, six years later, Bethanne is a successful businesswoman, preparing for her son's wedding. She is still on good terms with her ex-mother-in-law, and when Ruth declares she is driving cross-country to her 50th high school reunion, Bethanne cares enough that she doesn't try to talk her out of something she dearly wants, but offers to drive with her. Her daughter, Annie, decides to come with them after her boyfriend, instead of proposing marriage as expected, announces he's going to tour Europe for a year. All three generations of Hamlin women have major issues to deal with and decisions to make. Bethanne's ex-husband wants to reconcile -- should she let him? She definitely needs to get away and have time and distance to figure things out. The people the trio meet along the way and their adventures are fun, heart-warming, and totally believable. You'll be rooting for all three as they make decisions about life and love.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: THANKLESS IN DEATH by JD Robb

There are some authors for whom I break my vow not to buy new books until I reduce my to-be-read bookshelf/pile to a semi-manageable level. JD Robb with her In Death series is one of them.

THANKLESS IN DEATH takes place in a very short time period leading up to Thanksgiving. But that's not the reason for the title. This time, the villain's face and name and thoughts are displayed for readers to follow along and pass their own judgment. Not even a quarter of the way through the book, you'll be rooting for Eve Dallas and her team to catch up with the ungrateful, self-righteous, egotistical, sociopath snot and make him face justice for what he's done. Harsh judgment? Hey, the jerk killed his own parents because he wasn't getting his way and they were tired of him freeloading on them and were about to give him a deadline to get a job and get out of the house. And that was just the start. The sad thing is knowing some people with the same mind-set, who believe the universe revolves around them, and they are justified in punishing anyone who doesn't conform to their will. Kind of frightening, to wonder what little disappointment would send them down the same bloody trail, all the while believing themselves justified.

While I love seeing self-centered snots get their justified punishment, the best part of the In Death books is watching Dallas and Roarke, Peabody, Dr. Mira, and the rest of the wide cast of regulars interact, work together, tease and gripe and care for each other. I loved the ongoing feud within the detective bullpen over psychedelic ties wild enough to make your eyes bleed. There's a new hardback in the series coming out soon, but I'm going to be good and clear off my reading pile and wait until it comes out in paperback. But it'll be hard!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: SWEETHEART BRIDE by Lenoa Worth

Are you stunned? Shocked? I'm actually reading and reporting on a book for FUN!

As I've progressed in my writing journey and my skills and pickiness levels grow, I've grown away from category romance. But there are some authors I can always depend on for a good read that doesn't feel contrived and two-dimensional.

Lenora Worth is one of those category romance authors. I especially like the fact that she sets up a family and community that you get to know a little more with each book. SWEETHEART BRIDE starts at the wedding of Alma and Julien -- probably need to find that book and read their story -- and introduces the next sister, Brenna, and the wounded, doubting young man who will help her heal as she helps him heal, Nick.

He is into restoration of buildings, while Brenna is an artist and works with art. Her skills are just what he needs to fulfill the requirements of his mysterious employer (who I'm hoping will show up in the next book and fall in love with sister #3, Callie!). Nick has secrets and wounds that need healing, and Brenna is aching from a broken engagement to a man who definitely wasn't worthy of her. They have to fight for their love -- fighting against themselves. Now, that's a good story. Of course, being trapped in a halfway restored mansion in one of Louisiana's hurricanes helps ...

Monday, March 10, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: WRITING CONVERSATIONS: Spend 365 Days with Your Favorite Authors ... by Cherie K. Miller

Okay, big confession time: When I picked up this book on Kindle -- either very inexpensive/on sale, or maybe even free at the time (it's been so long since I went on a book-ordering frenzy when I first got my iPad...) I thought this book was about writing conversation, as in writing dialogue.


This is MUCH more useful.

This is a collection of bits of wisdom from published authors, advice, sharing of their experiences, lessons learned, glimpses into their approach to writing. Conversations ABOUT writing. And what's really useful is that there are several indexes, so if you're looking for a specific topic, a specific author, or even reference to a specific book, you can find it.

Niftily (no, that isn't a word, but writers are allowed to make up words when necessary!) these bits of wisdom and help are divided up kind of like those page-a-day calendars, so on January 1, you get a bit of wisdom. Then move on to January 2. On through the year. Kind of like a writer's morning devotions. Of course, I devoured it in 5 days, but I'll be back. Pick it up. You never know when you'll need a bit of encouragement, a new bit of insight into a problem you're facing in your writing process, or a glimpse into how your favorite author thinks.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: HOW I ARE BECOMED A VERY MUCH GOODER AUTHOR, by Sevastian Winters

Uh, yeah, that IS the title of the book.
And yeah, this IS a book about becoming a better -- gooder -- writer.

It catches your attention, doesn't it?
That's the point -- and one of the many lessons, sometimes harsh, but very necessary, that Winters conveys in this book.

The subtitle says it all: On the BUSINESS of Writing, Editing, Publishing and Promoting.

If you want to "make it" as an author, that means getting people to read your books. It means writing books people want to read. It means making sure people know your name and are interested enough to give you a chance -- and then making sure that they can't put down the book once they start reading.

Warning: You'll wince in places at his language, his assessment of the true talent of popular authors, and the attitudes some people have toward other genres and approaches to writing. That's okay -- he's conveying what works for him, what he has learned in his years of experience and struggling. Like I tell people regarding other writing books: Take what works for you, don't let anyone pressure you into doing things their way, and throw out what doesn't apply to you.

But read this book. You might find that "ah ha!" moment you've been hunting for.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: RIVET YOUR READERS WITH DEEP POINT OF VIEW by Jill Elizabeth Nelson

Short and sweet and hard to beat.

Point of View -- POV for those of us trying to write fiction -- is one of the big tripping points for a lot of people. I'm not talking about head-hopping in the middle of a paragraph, or even forgetting who the POV character is and switching from third person to first person in the middle of a scene (although such people should be SHOT!).

What the hey-yah is DEEP POV?

In this nicely lucid, clear, concise and readable little book, Nelson gives examples and exercises with each chapter. (Yeah, I know -- I thought we got away from homework when we got out of Senior English!) The hard and ugly truth is that we learn best through application, through DOING.

Nelson shows the subtle differences that take a sentence into deep POV, how to identify and eliminate the little authorial intrusions that mean the difference between "telling" and "showing," and help your readers really get inside the POV character's head instead of just sitting on her or his shoulder and watching what's going on.

I think when I picked it up, RIVET YOUR READERS WITH DEEP POINT OF VIEW was a free Kindle download. Might still be -- don't quote me on it. Look for it. It's well worth the short time you'll spend reading it -- and you'll want to refer to it regularly, just to brush up on your technique.


TODAY! Cyber Launch Party for KATHRYN, Quarry Hall Book 3.
Want to chat, ask questions, learn some inside information ... maybe win a prize?
Come on over to today, Monday, February 24. The fun is going on NOW and will last most of the day.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: WONDROUS STRANGE, by Lesley Livingston

This was the most recent "Free book Fridays" book from Nook/B&N. I was just in a fantasy mood, so with all the hundreds of books waiting to be read, I opened this one right away.

I was not disappointed. Clever, easy to read, with engaging characters. WONDROUS STRANGE is labeled as #1 in the Wondrous Strange series ... so when I get this to-be-read heap down to size, here is yet another series to follow.

What's it about? Well, not to ruin it too much for you ... the Faerie have been cut off from the Human world for more than a century, after Auberon's daughter was stolen by a Human woman. Well, it was only fair -- he stole her son! Once a year, at Samhain/Halloween, the doorway between realms opens up and the Janus Guards are tasked with keeping the mischievous, nasty, dangerous, rebellious Faerie creatures from escaping into our world. The Janus Guards are Changelings -- Human children stolen to be raised by the Faerie -- and they're kind of ... unpopular now, because their job is to kill Faerie. Not fun.

This year is worse, as the Gate inches open a little more every night for nine days before Halloween. Sonny, our hero, notices a young hopeful actress, Kelly, who doesn't seem to be entirely Human ... and as he gets to know her and more Faerie creatures sneak through into our world, his life and Kelly's life change completely.

And that's all I'm gonna tell you, because if you like magic, and magical creatures interacting with our world, and starcrossed lovers, and dabs of Shakespeare mixed into the story, READ this one.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Off the Bookshelf: TELLING DETAILS, by Kat Duncan

Details are important -- otherwise, you get blank-faced, naked characters acting on a white stage. Kind of boring, huh?

Duncan does a great job, exploring all the ways to handle details, painting a picture, setting the scene, creating background, and building the characters themselves. Use your senses -- smell, taste, sound, motion, heat, texture, etc. She discusses telling versus showing, which is always a battle for writers. When exactly is it better to just TELL readers what's going on, versus SHOWING them? When does the pace demand quick imagery, and when can readers spend many long, leisurely minutes exploring the environment where the story takes place?

When is enough enough? When are your lovingly created details too much? That's something that depends on the type of story being told, the pace, the attitude, the genre -- and has to be learned through practice. But this kind of book is a great starting place, helping writers skip a lot of trial and error and wasted time. Another book worth reading regularly, to brush up on things maybe you forgot you need to do.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Of the Bookshelf: FIRSTS IN FICTION by Aaron D. Gansky

The sub-title for this book says it all "First line hooks, hints & help."

Anyone who has studied writing and who has written for any length of time will tell you that the opening of a book, especially a novel, is a crucial part of the process. You have to hook the reader's attention and get him interested long enough to keep reading, and reading, and reading.

Gansky deals with many different questions and considerations when fashioning your opening line, opening paragraphs, opening scenes -- the all-important HOOK. Conflict, character, setting and tone, voice, action. Depending on your book, the genre and storyline and approach will all determine the kind of hook you need to craft. This book is a great teacher that anyone serious about writing should read at least once -- and it might just be a good idea to read it on a regular basis, as a refresher course.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Off the Book Shelf: CONFESSIONS OF A RAGING PERFECTIONIST, by Amanda Jenkins

I can sympathize and empathize with Amanda Jenkins, author of this semi-autobiographical, devotional, thought-provoking book (obtained free on Bookshout). The reason I can't identify with her is that, while yes, I do make lists and set goals and always give myself more to do in a day than I know I can actually accomplish ... *sigh* ... perfection is very far away.

Must be nice to be close to perfection.

I identify with her, the pressure to get so much done, the pressure to get it RIGHT, the envy of other people who have been able to let go and relax and enjoy life, to be flexible, to NOT be perfect. I think we all feel the pressure as Christians, because we have the ultimate example to live up to, right?

Thank goodness being a Christian is an ongoing process and not something we have to instant become, reach the pinnacle, cross the finish line two seconds after we realize we're a sorry mess without Christ in our lives. Read the book, sigh and laugh and say, "Oh, yeah, that's me!"