Saturday, October 15, 2011

Reviews and thoughts on free books

There are two things in life that I adore.

1. Free things

2. books

So free books should be an absolute no brainer. Well…not so much it seems. I looked back of this list of book reviews and the previous lists and led me to a realization that saddens me. When I first got my new Kindle I was pleased by the prospect of being able to download the free books to help me find new authors I enjoy reading. However of the twenty books I’ve read that were free reads, I’ve found two authors whose works I would be willing to pay for. Not exactly a good average. I will wade through a lot in the name of free, but I think the lesson here is you get what you pay for.

Side Jobs-Jim Butcher

This book is a collection of several of Butcher's short stories that have appeared in anthologies or have been published in other forms over the years. The stories span the entire series with the first story being before Storm Front and the last taking place just after Changes. Some of the stories are great and some are just okay. I had originally been excited that the novella from Thomas Raith's perspective was included since it isn't in print and sounded interesting. However, I was underwhelmed by it. The premise held promise, but there was something about it that just didn't ever gel.

The best story was "The Warrior". It takes place after Small Favors and deals with Michal and the Fists of God. It was a terrific story about how sometimes the things we do, that we think don't matter or are inconsequential, are the things that make the biggest impacts on those around us.

Giving Chase-Lauren Dane

I cannot figure out the 5 star reviews on this book. Are there two different books out there that are being confused? The premise had promise but the delivery was sloppy, redundant and irritating. The dialogue and character development was absolutely ridiculous and down-right insulting.

Firstly, the errors in grammar and word choice are unforgivable in a professionally published piece of work. I'm astounded that the writer, editor and final line editors all missed the incorrect tenses and missing words in sentences. Secondly the book was redundant. Characters repeated themselves and, worse, the scenes of intimacy repeated themselves. I realize that publishers of romance and erotica...and let me point out that this is true of smaller publishers and not so much the larger houses...have turned characters having unprotected sex into a crime and everyone better break out the protection. I understand the nod to political correctness; still, it is the responsibility of the author to handle that with finesse. This author failed miserably. The repetitive "tearing open" was so jarring and the actions in the intimate scenes were so redundant that it was dull. Fewer scenes described in depth, done better would have been preferable.

Finally, watching episodes of Designing Women is not a substitute for research. All of the characters were repeatedly addressing each other as honey, sugar, darling, etc. I live in Georgia where this book is set and no one here talks that way, especially the men. The men in this book sounded like women--or rather some stupid stereotype of southern women. No man in the south calls a woman in his own age group honey, sugar or darling unless she's his girl. And the women in this book were nothing more than a rehashing of the most simplistic and ridiculous stereotypes of southern women. To hear the author tell it, only the heroine, her closest friends and the mother of the hero are anything but cold-hearted B..'s or well, it starts with an sl- and I don't think I can use it in a review either. This book is downright insulting to the modern Southern woman.

Under the Persimmon Tree-Suzanne Fisher Staples

This is the story of a young girl, Najmah, caught in the middle of the war in Afghanistan. Her father and brother are taken by the Taliban and forced to fight. After her mother and infant brother are killed by American bombs, she is helped by the son of a neighbor who takes her with his family to a refugee camp on the Pakistani/Afghan border. Parallel to Najmah’s story is the story of a young American woman, Nusrat, who came to Pakistan with her Afghan husband so that he could open medical clinics across the border to help his people. As the story opens, that husband is missing. Eventually the two females' paths cross. And Nusrat finds herself frustrated in her attempts to save Najmah and the other children living in such horror.

This was just okay. It is a young adult book, written for the tween crowd, but still it seemed very rushed, as if the author was being held to a strict page limit. Many of the characters were undeveloped and their actions were therefore erratic. The lack of development made it hard to understand or to rationalize why the characters did what they did. Even in a children’s book, these basic elements of a story must be developed.

Ghost Story-Jim Butcher

Seriously? I kept expecting Bobby Ewing to step out of the shower. The story itself was really good. But the resolution to the bigger problem of Harry being dead was a cheat and not even worthy of a soap opera. No one expected Harry to stay dead but the solution to the mystery of his killer? Thank goodness it was really only a subplot in the grander scheme of what was happening in the book because if this was the grand finale, I probably would have chucked the book at the wall.

Laird of the Mist-Paula Quinn

If you're not big on historical accuracy and don't mind when an author forgets she's writing about the 17th century, you'll be fine. The author's characterization of the gender roles of this era are not spot on, and her over use of the Highland brogue reads less like authentic dialogue than as affected and difficult at times to read. In some places it is so badly done as to be incomprehensible. I do believe every fourth word of dialogue is "bonny", "braw", or "dinna".

Overall it is a predictable little read for those who don't want to think, which is fine. One of the best things about books is that they help us escape. Just don’t expect a great sweeping historical work of literature.

Also, I don't have a problem, as some have, with the hero being too much of a nasty murdering fellow to be forgiven. At the time, life was brutal. The Campbells and the MacGregors have been just shy of all out war for generations and that means they’ve been hacking up members of each other’s families. Of course one of the leaders of the MacGregors has killed and murdered the girl’s family members. It is what it is. But you can't make him a hero just by making the bad guy even worse than he is, not letting him kill the heroine or her brother and having him say "I love you." This guy is too brutal for that and the author doesn't give the reader enough to overcome that.

Rose Quartz-Sandra Cox

Four ancient women received magical amulets endowing them with a special gift or power. Those amulets still exist and Bella Tremain is the keeper of one. Now mad man Victor Price is in prison for trying to steal the healing amulet, but he's not out of the game. With help from the outside, he's set his sights on Bella's amulet that brings beauty and, more importantly, creativity hoping it will help him find a way to escape.

Cox consistently delivers engaging and well developed characters. Her stories are strong and well written. I'm looking forward to the third installment of the series.

Never a Bride- Amelia Grey

Mirabella has given up hope that her fiancé, Viscount Stonehurst, will ever return to marry her. Their fathers fixed the match six years ago after which he left for the Americas declaring he'd only return and marry her when he was old and gray. Since she was destined to be a spinster what would it hurt if she let a few gentlemen steal a kiss in the garden? Especially if the kisses revealed the identity of the man who drove her best friend Sarah to suicide? When Viscount Stonehurst returns unexpectedly, it creates more than one embarrassing moment for Mirabella.

This is the author's first Regency and it does show. What was surprising is that this isn't this author's first novel, she writes under a different name as well. My biggest criticism of this book was the dialogue. Mirabella is no novice to the ton or to the rules of society. It is not quite believable that she would act if she had no social filter on what she says or that she would be so forthcoming and unguarded with her returned fiancé, especially at first. He is a member of the nobility and she is a merchant's daughter.

In addition, the author does not fully establish why some characters would act as they do in the story. The "bad guy" for example, (he's not the actual antagonist in this story) is not really established as someone who would act as he does. There are no flaws revealed in his character until the last handful of pages when he's "revealed". It wasn't a surprise he ends up being the baddie, but Grey does not establish his character in this vein. Finally, the characters are likable, but they don't work as a couple. The chemistry feels forced.

It's a nice little story, just don't have great expectations.

The Farmer Next Door-Patricia David

Let me start by saying I like this author. I enjoy her Amish stories but this book, while an enjoyable read, was a tad irritating. This was a nice story but I think the author needs to work on her research. This was a problem in a previous book as well. While I'm no expert in Ohio adoption law, I'm fairly certain it takes more than six weeks to finalize an adoption, especially when the child's state of residence isn't Ohio, but Texas. And add in that the adoptive parent moved into the state the same week the process begins?

This was a nice story but I think the author needs to work on her research. This was a problem in a previous book as well. Perhaps instead of spending her time researching alpacas, the author should have taken a few minutes to research other elements of her story. It takes more than six weeks to finalize an adoption, especially when the child's state of residence isn't the same as the adoptive parent. And add in that the adoptive parent moved into the state the same week the process begins?

Perhaps instead of spending her time researching alpacas, the author should have taken a few minutes to Google Ohio adoption laws. A quick search (five minutes on Google) revealed that it takes a minimum of six months after a child is placed in the home before adoptions are final. The boy doesn't arrive until halfway through the story.

Again it's a nice story, but sloppy research is a major flaw.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Frightening Literacy Statistics

Over 50% of NASA employees are dyslexic. They are deliberately sought after because they have superb problem solving skills and excellent 3D and spatial awareness.

More than three out of four of those on welfare, 85% of unwed mothers and 68% of those arrested are illiterate. About three in five of America's prison inmates are illiterate.

44 million adults in the U.S. can't read well enough to read a simple story to a child.

U.S. adults ranked 12th among 20 high income countries in composite (document, prose, and quantitative) literacy.

60 percent of America's prison inmates are illiterate and 85% of all juvenile offenders have reading problems.

When the State of Arizona projects how many prison beds it will need, it factors in the number of kids who read well in fourth grade.

46% of American adults cannot understand the label on their prescription medicine.

There are almost half a million words in our English Language - the largest language on earth, incidentally - but a third of all our writing is made up of only twenty-two words.

In 1999, only 53 percent of children aged 3 to 5 were read to daily by a family member. Children in families with incomes below the poverty line are less likely to be read aloud to everyday than are children in families with incomes at or above the poverty line.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Recent reads

I should really start posting these as I finish them.

-Jim Butcher

This installment of the Dresden Files certainly is about Changes. Most of what you think you know about Harry changes, including what Harry is willing to do. It was well written and is in the same tongue in cheek style of all Dresden books, only much darker. That being said, I had to give it a four instead of a five because of the mixed feelings I have over what happens in the book, these "Changes".

Harry does a couple of things out of character in the book that I think unsettled some of the other reviewers who perhaps don't have children. If you did, you'd realize that push come to shove, they aren't out of line for a parent, though granted, Harry embraces his parenthood rather quickly.

There is a lot more here on the structure of the Red Court which is fascinating and the Fellowship of St. Giles. Harry calls in all his markers on this one and it is quite a mess that he will be left with. I can't say I like the changes that Butcher has made, many of the things we think of automatically when we think of Harry Dresden are gone and there is one "Luke, I am Your Father" moment that doesn't seem to be as impactful for anyone involved as it should have been.

Still, it is a solid book in the series and better than one or two of the previous ones that have really stretched the readers ability to suspend disbelief.

Steam and Sorcery-Cindy Spencer Pape

This was an engaging and fun story to read. I'm very glad I picked it up. While it may be "steam punk light" it is still a good solid story in the genre and blends the elements of science fiction, fantasy and romance together into a tightly plotted and entertaining read. The characters are well developed and likable. The children in particular were endearing and fascinating and made this a charming and heartwarming tale. I highly recommend this book and others by Cindy Spencer Pape. She has the ability to cross genres and still delight her readers.

Photographs and Phantoms-Cindy Spencer Pape

Pape's writing style is wonderful and enjoyable. The dialogue between her characters is authentic and sounds real. I do understand how some readers who hadn't read the first book in the series may have had trouble with the world building in this, it's because she did so much of it in the first book, Steam and Sorcery, which is an awesome book and if you haven't read it, I'd start with it.

The only reason I didn't give this five stars was because I was left wanting more. I wanted more growth and development between these characters. I want to know more about Lord Lake and Amy, I'd have loved a bit more of a peek at the characters from the previous book as well.

This comes from the fact that the characters were so well developed and likable. This author can be counted on for excellent quality books. I've read many of her books and all have well drawn characters readers can connect with.

13 Little Blue Envelopes-Maureen Johnson

Couldn't get past the first 50 pages this was so bad. The premise sounded interesting, a bit like P.S. I Love You except you find out the girl is seventeen. The whole set up is unbelievable. Her aunt, who her mother said was crazy and unreliable and couldn't be trusted to manage anything-the same aunt her mother repeatedly told her she was never to grow up to be like sends her an envelope with $1000 and tells her to go to New York they're going to have an adventure but she can't bring a cell phone, or anything other than what will fit in her backpack with her?

First of all, the author needs to do some fact checking. $1000 will not get the girl a passport and a ticket to London and fare to New York

Secondly, the mother described in this story is not going to give her seventeen year old daughter permission to chase around Europe on the whim of the unreliable and dead aunt with no way to contact her and no way of knowing if she has been stranded there because her sister's hair-brained scheme failed or wasn’t completely finished before she died.

Tailor Made Bride-Kate Witemeyer

First of all, this is a Christian Romance. I'm annoyed at the people who left one star reviews, all of them complaining about the Christian element. Do your homework people! You wouldn't walk into a dress store and buy something cause you liked the color. You'd check to see if it fit you. The story is published by Bethany House. Bethany House is an inspirational/Christian publisher.

That aside, the story itself does leave room for criticism. Pacing is painfully slow and there is very little happening in the story. Even the moments meant to inspire tension are sadly lacking. Look, we know the heroine isn't going to die two thirds of the way through the book. And the "bad guy", well, the author goes out of her way to make excuses for him and to try to paint him as young, misunderstood and confused. She even makes a silly attempt to redeem him at the end which doesn't work.

The characters are fairly uninspiring on the whole. The hero is a sanctimonious twit most of the book worried that a few bits of lace will make women go mad with temptation cause his mother ran out on his pa for a rich man who could buy her more things. Really? Dude needs to see his prairie shrink to get over his momma issues.

There is a message in this book that shouldn't be in a book period, but definitely not in a romance novel. The story carries a message that a woman needs to pretty herself up and loose those nagging 10 lbs. for a man to like her, or she'll end up with the sociopath down the street cause he's the only one who could like her. I get the heroine is fitness obsessed, and yes we are talking about a historical novel here. She spends half the book exercising. But to have her take the hero's sister who is described as a bit plump and make her do these exercises and starve herself to lose weight so the guy she likes will like her back is ridiculous and a bad message. Of course there is a lot of lip service to the "oh, he like her just as she was," nonsense, but the kicker here is the hero's sister doesn't get the guy until the heroine puts her through prairie boot-camp.

Heaven is For Real-Todd Burpo

As the mother of a toddler who will soon be having surgery, I found the images of Jesus holding little Colton on his lap and talking gently to him as the doctors worked to save his life to be wonderfully reassuring. And his meeting and being comforted by relatives that had passed on felt very right. The story is well written and is a lovely little story

However, while I find it fully believable that this extraordinary child had a near death experience that is inspiring, I found the latter portions of this story that developed or were "revealed" several years after the experience to be less authentic sounding and believable. The story stopped sounding authentic and more like a little boy reciting back or giving the grown-ups answers they wanted based on what he’s been taught.

Still, it was an enjoyable read.

Hybrid- Bryan O’Grady

The story concept is quite good as is most of the execution. This is very much hard science fiction and there are times when the writer's need to prove he understands the very technical aspects, or to at least get in all the science he's researched is cumbersome and simply bores the reader. You want good science supporting the science fiction, but whole sections are unreadable. Characterization is excellent as is plotting and pacing.

However the editor for this book needs to rethink their career choice. There are grammatical mistakes so jarring they pull the reader out of the story. Wrong word forms are used such as one location where it states "[It will] ultimate lead to our extinction." In other places to is used for too, there for their and other errors you might expect in a middle school essay, but not a published novel. I actually expect a few formatting errors with Kindle, but the punctuation and formatting in this book were horrific.

Overall, story good-book bad.

Journey to the Well-Diana Wallis Taylor

I'd actually have liked to give this a 4.5 stars. The story is wonderful. John 4 tells of the story of a Samaritan woman that Jesus meets at the Well of Jacob. Jesus reveals that the woman has had five husbands and is currently living with a man who is not her husband. Most jump to the conclusion that the woman is immoral and that she has been divorced or set aside by her husbands for bad behavior or barrenness. This author presents a story that paints the lead character as more of an unlucky or unfortunate woman, a victim of the realities of life as a woman in this time period, who has nearly lived the life of Job. The characters are well developed and the story imagined for this woman is warm and her meeting with Jesus could easily bring you tears when seen through her eyes.

My only consideration is that the writer's vocabulary seems very limited and her writing is a bit amateurish. In one section of the book (each section named for the man in her life at that time) someone's expression or face is described as "unreadable" at least twice per page. There are other ways to describe this. Many words, expressions, and descriptions are repeated to the point it becomes painfully obvious.

I'm interested to read other books by this author. I'd like to see her writing develop and she definitiely has a talent for telling an engaging and endearing story.

Hiss of Death-Rita Mae Brown

Remember when this was a great series? Not so much any more. This used to be my favorite series. It used to have exciting plots and wonderful, charming characters. Not so much any more. Now the plots are thin and boring. Now the characters are trite and flat.

The last two books have killed this series for me. Brown no longer seems to care about her stories or her readers. She spends most of her time, every third page or so, boring us and pulling the reader out of the story by beating us over the head with her political agenda. I don't buy these books to read pages of diatribes about how evil the government is, Rep. or Dem. You're a Libertarian-All govt. bad. We get it already.

Harry has become boring, preachy and I expect her next adventure will be in a survivalist training camp learning to spot black helicopters. Maybe she needs to be single again cause since she remarried Fair she's become totally unlikable.

Oh, and the ending/motive of this was ridiculous. Brown pulled the wrap-up for this out of of thin air.

Guardian Bride-Lauri Robinson

This is the fourth installment in the Quinter Brides series and it is quite enjoyable. The series is a sweet romance line about five brothers and their shot gun toting Ma who tends to marry them off, not always with their consent. Luckily it all works out in the end. This series is satisfying if a bit predictable. If you're looking for realism, keep looking.

This is the story of Scott "Snake" Quinter and the bride he wins in a poker game...sort of. Summer Austin's father throws her into the kitty at a poker game. Appalled but holding the winning hand, Snake folds thinking this will solve the problem. However, another man claims the win and the girl, a man who has a reputation for selling young girls to the highest bidder south of the Mexican-American border. To save Summer and her younger sister, Snake holds up his end of the bargain and claims the win not knowing the slaver has no intention of giving up his prize.

This is a collection of silly, sometimes kitschy characters who are charming and delightful. The plot is not unpredictable, but in a homey, comfortable way that makes for good brain candy reading.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Quality Matters

When you are a new or little known/unknown author one of the most important things is that the work you put out there for your readers is top quality. When you are trying to introduce people to yourself and your work, you have to make sure that what you put out there is the best that you can make it. This goes for every writer, whether you are publishing with a large publishing house, a small independent publishing house or are self publishing. Putting out shoddy work, will not endear you to readers.
I’ve been reading a lot of small house and self published books of late and have been disappointed at the quality. Not necessarily with the quality of the stories, some have been quite well plotted and well written stories that I’ve enjoyed. The problem I’ve noticed repeatedly has been with the quality of the editing and formatting of the books. Now this says either something about the Amazon Kindle formatting, or about the lack of editing being done on the books.
Formatting errors are excusable as long as they don’t proliferate the text and make it difficult to read. However poor editing isn’t the same thing as formatting. When it is grammatical mistakes and incorrect spelling or word choice, that is another thing altogether. For example, “It will ultimate lead to our extinction,” is not a formatting error but poor editing and grammar. Then there is the use of “to” when “too” is meant, or “there” when “their” is meant. These are mistakes I correct in the papers of middle school students and should not be appearing in published works of literature.
If you want to be a writer and be taken seriously, you have to behave professionally and put forth professional quality work. Beta readers and professional editors are not dispensable. Your readers deserve it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cousins, Identical Cousins...

Well, not really. But I have been struck over the last couple of years at how much my son, Z, is like two of my cousins, Ben and Kevin. (There surnames are not Roth so I’m pretty safe using their first names.) They are the sons of my only maternal aunt who I grew up calling DeeDee. Her name is nothing like DeeDee. She became DeeDee in a convoluted set of circumstances that involved both my mother’s and my own in ability to pronounce her name correctly. My mom distorted it, it sort of stuck, and then my toddler speak distorted it even more.
The older of my aunts boys are is about eight years younger than me. I was ring-bearer at her wedding since we had no boys in the family at that time. Yes, my grandfather was thrilled by this fact. His infamous, “Baby dolls again,” remark upon the birth of my cousin Lisa—granddaughter number four—is family legend. The farm set he had purchased for his grandson, complete with barn, plastic animals and real metal John Deer tractors waited for nearly 10 years under the bed in the spare room. Of course after Lisa it was 13 or 14 years before another girl would be born in our family. Again, I digress. Because of the age difference, I felt very much the grown up around the babies that were my cousins. I helped change diapers and even babysat them when I was a bit older and they were too. Funny how perceptions change. If you ask Ben and Kevin, they’ll tell you I was a mean babysitter. If you ask my uncle’s kids, Lisa and Jeff, I was fun. Hmmmm…does that say something about me, or them?
(Yes, by the way, I am ADD and I do tend to ping.)
Now that I have a young son of my own, I’m watching him grow and am amazed at how much he is like Ben and Kevin. The comparison to Kevin is easy. Kevin was the child who gave my aunt every gray hair she dyes. By the time he reached middle school he’d broken bones, poisoned himself twice, nearly hung himself (literally and accidentally) and risked getting squashed by actually playing in the road. (If you wanted to drive that street, be prepared to pay the toll.) Kevin stories filled the conversation in family gatherings and are retold again and again despite the fact he’s now reached middle age, has a child of his own and wishes we’d all stop. Not likely buddy.
From early on I made comparisons between Z and Kevin, most recently when Z went running naked through the yard after swimming in his pool. Yes, that’s another Kevin story. But yesterday, for the first time, I noticed similarities to Ben. Ben was the quiet, thoughtful, gentle boy who knew exactly what he wanted and who he wanted to be. Then he went out and did it. I adore Ben. He’s always been very special to me because he was a bit like me in that we could both argue our way through life and would stubbornly defend our beliefs, and they were usually on opposite ends of the spectrum.
Our cocker spaniel has been very ill the last two days. So ill we weren’t sure she was going to make it. She’s been sleeping quietly in a crate we moved into the front room so she could be with us. Now, Z and Shiloh are not the best of friends. They’ve knocked heads since he first started lying on the floor for tummy time. As a toddler, it can seem like all out war. He harasses her, she harasses him. He tugs and pushes her; she knocks him down and steals his snack. Yet I only began to see that there is a bond between them this weekend. With her crate uncovered in my bedroom so I could watch her at night, I noticed her lumber to her feet and pace whenever he made a sound during the night. He keeps track of her, he’s wanted to know why she was in her house instead of chasing him around stealing his graham crackers or Cheerios. We explained she was sick, she had an owie in her tummy. After thinking about this for a few moments, Z announced, “I sick, too,” and has maintained his infirmity for the past two days.
Here in comes the comparison to Ben. My aunt took us three older girls when my mom had to have surgery when I was about 8 or 9. Within days we all three broke out in chickenpox. Here is a young, new mother with a toddler who suddenly has three older girls who were supposed to be “helpful” to her during their stay and now she’s taking care of them too. And she did. We took oatmeal baths several times a day, she coated our ichies with Calamine, we read books, curled up on the couch under blanket and had ice cream. Little Ben saw all this and began to demand that he get “spots” too. Two weeks later we were back home and the chickenpox gone. We get a phone call and my aunt puts Ben on the phone. He proclaims we need to take our spots back, he doesn’t want them any more.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Were things better when we were kids?

If you live in the world of Facebook, tweets or even chain emails you’ve seen something like this before:
Agree w/ this post? -My curfew was the lightning bugs, my mom didn't call my cell, she called my name, I played outside with friends, not online. If I didn't eat what mom cooked, I didn't eat. Sanitizer didn't exist, but you COULD get your mouth washed out w/ soap. I rode a bike w/out a helmet, getting dirty was okay & neighbors cared as much as your parents. Re-post if you drank water from a garden hose & survived."
This popped up on my Facebook page today because I “liked” a local radio personality named Jenn Hobby from the Bert Show. It’s off topic, but if you live in the metro Atlanta area, Nashville or near Indianapolis you should check them out. Most days they are an entertaining crew during the morning commute. I’m missing Melissa Carter, who left them recently, but…well, I digress.
One of the people who commented on this post called foul. He said it was garbage and that we were just trying to make ourselves feel better about having lived through an inferior time. My knee-jerk reaction was to call him a jerk and argue. And I did—argue, not call him a jerk. But I thought about it. Why do we feel that the time we grew up in was better? Is it just nostalgia?
I do think that nostalgia plays a big part in it. No one likes to get older and see the world change. Change can be exciting and stimulating, but I think there is a piece of most all people that fears change and longs for things to be the way they were. Even children removed from terribly abusive situations will cry for their missed parents though what they are going to may be a million times better. We all feel sad when a love affair ends even though we know it was for the best. Why?
I think there is something other than nostalgia at play. When you read these posts and you read people’s responses, most mention something about things seeming simpler then, seeming safer, less stressful or confusing. I don’t think this is nostalgia, nor do I think it is self-delusion or wishful thinking. I think it is all about filters.
We see the world through a filter. All of us. There are no exceptions, we all see what is around us through a filter that is unique to us. No two filters are exactly the same. Impressionism understood this as it tried to capture the world as the filter of the artist saw it, still recognizable to the rest of us, but changed by the individual through whose eyes and mind we were now seeing it. I could go on to add that we were seeing their filtered view through out filters, but that’s a big metaphorical merry-go-round that I don’t even want to get started on.
Our filters are more than just unique to us, they are changing, shifting at every moment. When we are a child, our filter is stronger and tends to weed out those things we don’t understand or can’t connect with. We may hear our parents talk about struggling to make ends meet, we may go without or know we are poor and that things are not all sunshine and roses. But the filter we see things through is a child’s filter. It allows in the simple and the easy to understand. Because they aren’t relevant to us as a child, we filter out the things we didn’t really understand. I think these memories we create are the strongest our filters will ever be. We see our childhood through the eyes of the child we were. We see the world as being delight at chasing and collecting lightening bugs or other insects and small animals, or riding out bikes with reckless abandon, peddling as fast as we could down the steep hill and then jumping off right before we would crash. We see the world as playing outside, sitting in a secret hiding place with a favorite book while eating apples. We see the times we slept in sleeping bags in the backyard, giggling with our friends and telling ghost stories.
We didn’t see the dead bugs or think about their extinguished lives as a result of our childish selfishness. We didn’t see or hear the stories our parents heard about a friend of a friend’s child who ended up permanently injured, or worse, because they didn’t get clear of the tree or curb in time. We didn’t hear the stories about that girl down the road who was sitting in her special place, reading her book when she was attacked. We didn’t see our parents sitting up all night by the backdoor or the upstairs window, watching us as we played at having an adventure.
As we got older, we became the parents who are living in fear for our own children. We are the generation who has pushed helmets and pads, panicked when our toddler got out of sight for just a moment so we created backpacks with leashes on them, cringed when our kids climbed that tree and got too high. Why do things seems so different now? Because we are different. Because we now see things through the filter of adulthood, parenthood and fear. The filter of childhood has gone for us and when we look back on the memories we made through that filter, it all seems so much easier, simpler and safer.
But it wasn’t. The thing that worries me the most about how the world has “changed” is the fear that we aren’t as good as our parents were at helping our kids keep their filters of childhood in place as long as possible. I worry that we’ve become a society that doesn’t allow them to see things through those same rosy lenses we were allowed to use. In our quest to make the world safer we’ve taught them stranger danger, don’t trust people you meet on the street. And we wonder why they prefer to text, tweet and Facebook. We’ve taught them to fear being isolated and vulnerable. And we wonder why they prefer to be joined to their cell phones at all times. We’ve taught them our fear.
Or maybe I’m wrong about this last part. Maybe they don’t see our fears. Maybe they will also grow up remembering the past through their own filter of childhood.
*The pictures used here are available as free wallpaper from and are by the artist Donald Zolan.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

IMHO-In my humble opinion

Rather than do full reviews one at a time, I started doing group reviews. The opinions here are just that, my opinions. I have no intention of insulting an author or trying to persuade or dissuade a reader from reading these books. That's the great thing about books. There are enough out there that everyone can find something they like.

Shelter’s of Stone- Jean Auel

I loved the Earth’s Children series right up to The Plains of Passage. It was arguably a filler book, but in my humble opinion, it wasn’t needed. We didn’t need to retrace Jondalar’s footsteps after we’d read about his journey in detail during Valley of Horses. Shelters of was the long awaited next edition, written after Auel walked away from her writing due to a personal tragedy. That in and of itself makes me loath to point out that while her writing is still excellent, her editors and betas failed at their jobs. The book is overly long and repetitive. The song the clan sings about the origins of the earth and it’s people (and it’s one long epic poem) is repeated in near entirety at least four times. Every blade of grass and piece of rock are needlessly described in minute detail. While I loved the first three books in this series and would recommend them to anyone, I’m not sure I’ll be continuing to read it.

Turn Coat- Jim Butcher

This was Butcher's usual good solid writing, but I only gave it three stars instead of four on Shelfari for a couple of reasons. First, the story took a long time to set up and drug a bit even with rapid fire events. They were there, quick and bloody, but just not that interesting. Secondly, Laura Raith is becoming a caricature of herself, especially in the early part of the book where we hear her tired old "ooh, I'm going to seduce you if I want to," crap. And the "I can give you want you want...freedom from the pain and responsibility," wasn't compelling, just ridiculously reminiscent of Star Trek V as Spock's brother encourages everyone to share their pain.

Finally, I would have preferred if the resolution hadn't been so damned predictable. Sticking with the Star Trek analogy, we all know it's the new guy who shows up who will be the bad guy. The "villain" was easily identifiable from the moment he showed up and Anastacia's part in what happened was also predictable. Still, the Harry Dresden series is one of my favorites period and is definitely tops in urban fantasy. If you haven’t read it, go pick up Storm Front, the first, and you won’t regret it.

Proven Guilty- Jim Butcher

Yep, it was a two Harry Dresden sort of time the past couple of months, mostly because I have a horrible commute and the series is now on audio book read by the lovely and luscious James Marsters. Damn! I love me some Spike.

In this installment Harry is faced with the task of reconciling his role as a Warden after once being target number 1 of same group and with finding a black magic practitioner, a warlock, who is preying on people’s fears and causing psychic damage. Mix in a good deal of Unseelie and Seelie intrigue and meddling, one teenage daughter of Harry’s best friend, Michael (uber arch-angelesque good-guy who slays evil), tensions with Harry’s half brother and poor Wizard Dresden is having a really rotten couple of days.

The end did seemed to drag on for just a bit too long. The whole icky final scenes with Harry and Molly were just...well, icky. It doesn't matter what did or didn't happen, the truth is Butcher just didn't need to go there. It was more of a pandering to forbidden desires while letting Harry keep the high road. It just plain didn't need to be done. And can we stop with the final, let's all sit down and remind the reader of all the bad things still out there at the end so we can justify the need for the next installment? We love Harry. We want more stories about Harry. But we don't need the recap at the end of every novel.

Born of Night-Sherrilyn Kenyon

When Nykyrian decides the League of Assassins that has been his whole purpose for existence has finally asked too much of him, to kill a child, he rebels and quits. Only, no one quits the League. One may commit ritual suicide, but no one walks away. Now, hiding from the League with his own band of for pay assassins, Nykyrian takes the contract to protect a dancer whose father’s political connections have plagued her life.

While I'm a fan of the author, this book was just okay. I suppose if I'd read it in its true chronological order (first, before I'd read any other Kenyon books) I'd have liked it better. It is clearly an early book from and author who had not reached her potential. The series was published many years ago and held hostage to a failing publishing house until the rights reverted back to Kenyon a couple of years ago. Polished up and reprinted, the League series was eagerly awaited by her fans, though some of us wondered if she really needed another series.

As a fan of her Dark-Hunter books, it was fun to play "spot the character". She has recycled charactesr from this series and names for her Dark Hunters: Nykyrian is a mix of Acheron and Kyrian, names such as Julien and Syn make appearances. Though they have different names, even Nick, Liza, and Styxx make appearances. It is fun for fans and will give you a Kenyon fix as you wait for the next DH book, but it is really only okay.

A Brush With Love- Jo Barrett

This is a nice little book if you don't want to think too much. This is the second book I've read by this author and it has the same weaknesses and strengths. The characters are likable and fairly well drawn. However the plot is so trite and "convenient" that it is irritating. Why was it necessary to make the heroine's paralysis the result of PTSD? And curing it with a little tantrum and her declaring she wasn't a loser after everything else she'd endured ruined the entire story. Why can't the hero love her and have happily ever after with her still in a wheelchair? Why do we need a completely laughable and ridiculous recovery to end this book? As with her other book I read, the author writes herself into a storyline then uses a silly, hackneyed, and trite plot development to end her story.

Invincible: The Chronicles of Nick- Sherrilyn Kenyon

Yeah, it was also a two Kenyon sort of month. This book isn't great literature, but let's face it-- we don't read Kenyon for great literature. Be honest, how often do most of us really sit down to read "great literature"? It is good solid YA. The story is interesting, and the characters are well drawn and likable when they are supposed to be likable and not when they're not. There was a good deal less action in this particular installment of the series but it's still a good story.

I like this series for one main reason. It gave the fans of Kenyon's adult series back the Nick we knew and loved before she turned him dark and totally unlikable. I have become a bit worried about the effect of introducing this series on younger readers. My students are reading it too and have begun asking about the "Dark-Hunter books". Those are not appropriate for the middle school and up that this series is targeted at. Let's all just hope none of them pick up "Acheron".

As a long time fan of SK's adult Dark-Hunter series there are things about this alternate universe, or rather the universe as it exists according the the "original" Nick now known as Ambrose, that really irritate me with their cryptic nature and what it implies about well loved characters like Acheron. For example, Savitar shows up in this book and taunts Ambrose with something to the effect of Well let's ask Acheron... oh wait that's right we can't because of you. What exactly is he implying Nick/Ambrose has done to Acheron? Personally, I'd really like to smack Ambrose, but then I've wanted to slap him since Dark Side of the Moon. Kenyon has taken Ambrose/Nick's gigantic self pity party way too far and has turned him from dark, brooding and misunderstood hero to a sniveling little brat. Thank goodness this new Nick is a charming and lovable as the old Nick was.

She Walks in Beauty- Siri Mitchell

A nice little story of the late Victorian period in New York and it's society with rules that would out do even the strictures of London's Regency period. It was an entertaining read full of the silly "misunderstandings" that often are used in the place of detailed plot development. This is an inspirational/Christian fiction that seems to be minus the Christian fiction and inspiration except toward the end when it becomes a very heavy handed addition to the plot, almost as if the writer had written a nice little historical fiction story with a character who goes to church on Sunday and was told she needed to strengthen the inspirational elements, so she tossed them all in at the end.

Not to mention the over sudsy soapbox about corsets that gets dumped on the reader. Okay, corsets bad. But the broader message that one should love and accept one’s appearance does come through well, not with the horrors of the corset being slammed about the reader’s ears, but in the simple act of Clare’s taking off the corset, curling up in her dressing gown and reading her book toward the end and her shocking declaration that she would need to be remeasured because she was not wearing the corset ever again.

Somewhere to Belong- Judith Miller

Johanna and Berta are two very different young women. Johanna is a life long resident of the Amana colony and a model of young womanly behavior. For this reason she is chosen to help newcomer, Berta, to adjust to the communal, collective, God-centered life of the Amana colony after having lived her life as the daughter of a prominent Chicago physician. And to say the spoiled and selfish Berta is not happy about her new living arrangements would be a gross understatement.

Set just a few years after the Great Fire of Chicago, this historical novel is an example of a good inspirational book. Spirituality is present, woven through the fabric of the story without seeming overbearing or in your face. The only problem I had with this story, why I didn't give it 5 stars, is that the character of Berta was thoroughly unlikable for far too long in the story. More than half-way through and I still wanted to put aside the pacifistic, loving world of Amana and slap that girl silly. Even reminding myself she was very young didn't help. Miller handled Berta's transformation well. Often in such a book there is a lightening bolt moment when the character changes radically and conveniently. Berta's transformation was slower and had it's moments of backsliding. Her world was shaken a part and then a serious event occurs that is believable as the catalyst for her change.

This is an excellent departure from the usual Amish setting of the Bonnet novel.

You Don’t Even Know Me- Sharon G. Flake

This is a bit different than the books I usually read and review but I am such a fan of Sharon Flake that I couldn’t wait to pick it up. It's a good companion to What Am I With Out Him, which tells the stories of teenage girls and their relationships to boys in their lives. The problem is this book, despite it's cover, is not really one that can be sold to boys. As a middle school teacher, I can tell you that I may be able to convince a boy to take this book, but they would never finish it. Instead it will be read by girls.

The short stories in the anthology are really character sketches, portraits of young urban boys trying to find themselves and their path in the increasingly confusing and dangerous streets of major US cities. One shows us a boy whose obese adoptive father loves him like no one ever has, yet is a source of worry, fear and embarrassment for the youngster, We see a young man helping a new girl move into his building and discovers that she has a similar problem to him…a hot young mom. Both teens are faced with mothers who are still young and sexy and want to flaunt it, but the problem comes when the new mom on the block sets her sights on flaunting it with him. How does a young man say no to that, even when he knows it will hurt the woman’s daughter and his own mother. A unique look at what some would call a lucky break and others would call child abuse. A third young man struggles with the restrictions put on him by his police officer stepfather when he really just wants to get out on the street and hang with the other boys. But if he does, who will watch his two younger sisters? Where does his responsibility lie? To his family or to his own right to be young and have fun while he’s young.

This might be a great book for a boy’s literature circle, but you want to be prepared for the conversations to get uncomfortable.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Exposing the Exposition

As a writer I can tell you I’m definitely not an expert. But as a reading and ELA teacher I can tell you that there is a bit of science to writing a story. For example, a story has five basic sections and all must be present and must transition, one to the other, fluidly. I'm not speaking of the elements of plot, the characters, setting, conflict, complications, climax and resolution. I'm speaking of the way a story is laid out, a line to follow in fitting it together. It is the first of these elements that I'd like to address as it is often the most abused.

One of the most vital parts of a story, and one that is often botched by authors for reasons ranging from lack of skill to rushing to lack of adequate editing is the very first part. The Exposition.

The Exposition:

The exposition is the hook of a story. This is the beginning portion of a book that is supposed to allow the reader to become invested in the story. A solid exposition will pull in a reader who must know more about what will happen. The exposition is the Who, Where, When and What. The Why and the How come later.


A good exposition should introduce the protagonist, antagonist and the primary characters who will act upon the story. This doesn't have to be done as a big, simplistic meet and greet and the antagonists name doesn't even have to be mentioned. But he and any characters who will be central to the plot must be present. The shadow of their presence, their power, their affect, must be present. This can be through foreshadowing, through a revelation of actions or even a hint of their involvement even if they are never identified for the reader.

Where and When

Where does this story take place? Even if your settings will change or the main characters will be transported to another place and time, there must be the over-arching image of where and when this story is going to take place. Some time travel books include a prequel that occurs in the time the character is going to or hint at the future time by something the character is interested in, an object he or she handles or sees or by the discussion of an important event or person from that time period.


The what is critical. We don’t need to know what and how, but your reader should have a vague notion of what the basic conflict is of your story by the time the move from the exposition to the rising action portion of the story. The writer doesn’t even have to tell the reader the truth. Misdirection can lead the reader down one path they think the writer is following only to have the true path revealed later. But the hints of the truth must be there.

Remember the Sixth Sense? Ninety-nine percent of people watched that movie with no idea what the real “problem” was that Bruce Willis’ character had to solve. Yet when this was revealed, we could all look back and go, “Duh!” There was this hint, that hint, and several more along the way. We were surprised and even blindsided. That’s good, the truth was there all the time and the writer used misdirection to fool us. However, he didn’t pull the real “problem” out of his backside at the end.

As I said, I’m not an expert and the truth about rules of writing is that the best and brightest among us break them…or seem to break them all the time. But as I tell my students, you can’t break the rules until you fully understand what they are and why they are there. Then you will understand the difference between breaking them and twisting them in a way that delights and engages your reader.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Characters who drive you crazy.

I'm reading a book right now set in the Amana Colonies. (They in themselves make for a unique and interesting setting for those tired of the usual Amish bonnet stories.) One of the two lead characters, Berta, is driving me mad. She is such a spoiled, deceitful, disrespectful girl that I want to slap her...hard. On one hand, when you are meant to dislike a character, this can be a stellar achievement for a writer. Creating a character that people so connect with and personalize that they hate them is difficult to do. More so, I think, than creating a character that people love.

Back when we were writing fanfiction together, one of my favorite authors--Jennifer Hudock--wrote a character called Perpetua who I grew to loathe. So much that when a friend issued a challenge in a writers group both Jenn and I belong to to write a story about a character you disliked, I chose not one of the usual fanfiction characters, but her Perpetua. In my story I took all my frustration out on the woman, leaving her alone and miserable while flaunting the happy ever afters of the men she had manipulated and hurt right under her nose. I think Jenn got a kick out of the fact that she'd written a character that could elicit such strong feeling from someone... at least that's what she said.

Does this mean I'm praising the author's wretched little wench, Berta? No. I'm pretty sure at some point I'm supposed to like her or sympathize with her but personally I'm not sure if I'm going to be able to stand the little brat long enough to finish the book.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Recent Reads

I’ve finished several new books lately ranging from new releases to older books. Many of these were either books I listened to on tape because of my huge commute or Kindle downoads. Some I’ve liked, some I haven’t.

Always the Baker, Never the Bride

The story did have a fluffy little plot about a diabetic baker who meets a widower who hires her to bake at his new wedding business/hotel. Very fluffy, little development of characters and not a lot of chemistry, honestly. The book was free, you can't complain too much. But I wouldn't recommend it. There were a few significant problems that I saw. First, the editing of this book was horrible. The main character shakes her "hand" not her "head". There are repeated words, missing words and the punctuation needs some tending to. Whoever edited this did a poor job.

Secondly, the constant use of exaggerated dialect when the hero's sisters spoke was distracting and as a resident of Metro Atlanta, I can tell you even the folks born here don't speak in such a caricatured fashion. Finally, I don't mind inspirational stories, I like them in fact. But this story didn't read like an inspirational story. I more got the idea that it was a light romance the author couldn't sell anywhere else so she added in a bunch of heavy handed over the top preaching and moralizing and sold it off as an inspirational book. The minister in the story came across as not quite fitting in the story, he almost seemed pasted in. Further he was self-righteous and pushy; not the kind of character to truly reach out to people. He's constantly grabbing their hands and praying over them. Seriously. He grabs the heroine's hand at a hiking trail and starts praying over her. He corners the hero at a family dinner and starts praying over him. Not inspirational at all. No wonder the hero spends half the book trying to hide from him.

Fools Rush In

Even for the freebie it was, this book was not worth it. I have read some weak stories in the name of free, but I couldn't finish this mess. It has too many hastily introduced characters who were flat. If only this book were about Aunt Rosa. Now there is a character. But Bella is just plain dull and so is the mealy mouthed, one-dimensional "hero" who just seems to stand around and look cute. And the horrible "misunderstanding" that brings them together? She is looking for a deejay. Calls and says she is looking for a deejay to work a wedding. His response? Sure, he'll take the job. But it turns out he's not a deejay, he's a carpenter but he thought she meant a in his name is D.J. This doesn't say much about the author's respect for the intelligence of her readers. The writing is repetitive. She beats her readers over the head with her “cute” little twists.

Hide in Plain Sight

I'm not an evangelical Christian. I'm probably high on their list of people going to hell, so I'm rather stunned at finding myself having to defend this book's Christian slant. But those who left the one star negative reviews over on seemed to have failed to read the product description that clearly identified this as one of the Amish Country/inspirational stories. I found most of the reviews were knee-jerk reactions to being upset at the book being Christian based and basically just Christian-Fiction bashing. No, the grandmother falling asleep reading the Bible wasn't "random". She was clearly established as a woman of faith. Incorporating a character's faith into the story isn't nonsense. And there was nothing sexist about it. The main character was seeking security her whole life and realized that for her that didn't mean the big corporate job. She didn't give up her career, she just decid

ed to change gears and open her own small firm in a place where she could be close to her family. How is that sexist?

That said, this doesn't have the strongest plot nor is it a great work of literature, the same can be said of 99% of books published. Most people don't read because they want to explore the themes, structures and intricacies of literature. Most people read for information or to be entertained. There were some loose ends that were never tied up. A big deal was made about the gazebo, but it never went anywhere. The ledgers

being found in the oddest places being blamed on the sister just sticking them wherever, seemed a bit lame and I expected it to go somewhere but it didn't. Still it's a nice little story and as a free read it was worth the few hours of mind candy entertainment it was.

The Constant Princess

Historical fiction aside, Gregory plays fast and loose with the accepted facts about Katherine of Aragon. Taking an icon of determination, dedication, honesty and faith and turning her into a lying, scheming creature who is dedicated and faithful not to her God, but to the memory of her dead first husband she barely knew, destroys that which is honorable about this well loved and respected historical figure. Making things up to fill in the gaps is one thing, but damaging the reputation of Queen Katherine is not what historical fiction is.

Daughters of Joy

I enjoy reading Christian fiction, but this story doesn't read like Christian fiction, it reads like a sermon. Instead of the religion being a part of the character development and the plotting, the author seems to be hell bent, pardon the pun, on beating the reader over the head with heavy-handed sermonizing that drags down the story and makes it hard to wade through. I finished this from sheer stubbornness, but it wasn't an enjoyable book.

The book had the most laughable collection of plot elements I've ever seen. It was almost as if the writer wrote a list of all the possible elements of a prairie Christian fiction story and tried desperately to work them all in. We have the grieving widow, the grieving widower, the grieving mother who has lost her only child, the misunderstood and badly behaved little child who just needs love, the reformed alcoholic, the man abused by his father, desperate not to repeat the cycle, the reformed prostitute, the wayward wife who comes home, the cross-cultural relationship between a White man and a Native American woman, the biracial child it produces and the resulting bigotry of the community, there is the rogue who threatens the virtue of our heroine, we have the prodigal son who errs and then returns home, and the woman who the doctors have told she will die if she gets pregnant but who puts her faith in God and gets pregnant again because it was her fault her husband had an affair with the reformed prostitute (who becomes pregnant as a result) when she asked him to abstain from sex. (Anyone not clear on what the sequel that focuses on the reformed prostitute will incorporate? I hear the death bells tolling now.)

No wonder this book was such a mess.

Cowboy Trouble

Couldn't even finish this and I can stubborn my way through a lot of bad fiction. This one creeped me out. In the first half of this book, all of the male characters can best be described as creepers and potential serial killers. Who walks up to a complete stranger while wearing chaps and starts carrying her stuff in to her new house? What big-city, single woman living alone doesn't call 911 the minute cowboy dude starts touching her stuff? What hero is in his 30's and still lives with mom and dad? Then there is the town character: a guy everyone says is crazy who dresses up dead animals in tutus and baseball uniforms?

I know this was also a suspense/murder mystery, but seriously, by half way through a romance novel I shouldn't still be wondering if the hero is going to pull out a knife and slice and dice the heroine or if he has the missing girl locked in his basement. The writer makes way too much of the heroines physical attraction to the sheriff who isn't the hero. I mean a casual notice is one thing, drooling is another. On top of it all the editing and formatting are terrible. Don't bother with this one.

The Boleyn Inheritance

This is the story of three women who found their lives dramatically affected by the death of Anne Boleyn. Ann of Cleves, sent by her family to marry a man who had buried all three of his previous wives, including one he beheaded. Jane Boleyn, sister-in-law to the former Queen whose testimony sent doomed Queen Anne and Jane’s husband George Boleyn to the scaffold. And young Katherine Howard, unprepared for the position her greedy family thrust her into and who find her self the heir to Anne Boleyn’s most horrible legacy.

Gregory sticks closer to history without her usual playing fast and loose with facts. All three women are portrayed with all their faults and with their more intriguing qualities as well. Ann is the clever woman who was forged in the fire of one tyrant only to be married to another. The most clever of Henry’s wives, she is the only one to survive with Henry’s good will and brotherly affection. Katherine Howard is strangely sympathetic as Gregory reminds us she was only a child of 15 married to an old man, grossly obese and stinking of the rotting flesh of a wound that wouldn’t heal. She was full of her own self with few thoughts in her head beyond dresses and jewels. A malleable girl, not just for a King, but for those who sought to manipulate her.

Dancing in the Moonlight

This was a nice little story. I almost didn't get it after reading some of the Amazon reviews, but I've concluded those who left the nasty one star reviews are either people who don't really like this genre, have no real clue about the effects of a serious trauma on a person or people who look for some reason to leave nasty reviews. There was good character development, the author took time to show us in flashbacks how the relationship between the H/h developed over the many years of their acquaintance. The h is moody and annoying with huge chips on her shoulders but the first chip is an understandable thorn in her side from the loss of a beloved father and the need to blame someone. The second chip is perfectly understandable as well as she tries to deal with the complex emotions and trials of dealing with a physical trauma that changes her life forever. She's only five months out of the horrors of war and the devastation of losing a limb and some reviewers think it would be realistic for her to be eager to believe someone could love her and all happy sweet and nice? That's not how it works. Some people carry those wounds their entire lives.

Ignore the negative reviews at Amazon and definitely go for this one. The characters are strong and will provoke a reaction from you. Even the secondary characters are well developed and the plot is well formulated. The only reason I rate this higher was that the plot did spend a bit too much time with them actually working on the ranch jobs...then they did more ranch jobs...then they did more ranch jobs...and neither is a rancher.