Posted in Blog, Books I Love

American Gods, and blogging as an author

Neil-Gaiman-2Right now, I’m reading the 10th anniversary edition of American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read it! This is the 3rd Gaiman book I’ve read—Neverwhere and Ocean at the End of the Lane being the others—and our family’s bookshelves hold a few more titles for me to dig into once I’m done with this one (and it’s a long book, so it will be a while). I’ve also watched Coraline or Stardust as movies before I realized they were Gaiman stories.

One of the things I love about Neil Gaiman is that he keeps a journal at his blog, and he’s pretty candid in it. There, he dismisses the fact that he’s some big named author, and he talks directly to his audience, and his audience talks back. There are no walls between his audience and him, which is pretty admirable for someone of his status.

americangodsBack when he wrote American Gods, he journaled the publishing process as he went through it. What makes this the most interesting is that he still hadn’t reached global acclaim as an author. He’d had a few literary successes, but none of it compared to the success he was about to see with American Gods. These blog entries still exist on his blog, showing an inside look at what was going through his mind in those early days.

This is what I love about this blog, and what I try to do here—kind of. I’m no Neil Gaiman (I’d love to be half the writer he is), but I’d like to think that this blog will one day be a record of what it was like before I was a successful bestselling author, and then continue to be a gateway between me and readers. Admittedly, I find it hard to write here when I’m in the middle of a book project, which is why there is a lot of space between entries. Gaiman mentioned in his own blog that he didn’t start publicly journaling about American Gods until he was into the publishing process because most of his entries would go back and forth between “This is the best thing I’ve ever written” to “This is pure and utter crap.”

And ain’t that the truth?

I keep a personal journal so that I don’t have to subject any of you to my schizophrenic way of thinking about my books. Right now, I’m in the editing phase of book 2 of The Road to Hope series, and I’m really struggling with it. My journal is filled with the same kind of sentiments in my book that Gaiman mentions—thinking it’s both brilliant and terrible, sometimes in the same journal entries.

But that’s the reality of being an author. These books are both brilliant and terrible. As Gaiman said (quoting the poet and author Randall Jarrel), “a novel can best be defined as a long piece of prose with something wrong with it.” There are hopes and dreams we have for these books before and during the writing process, and often we just can’t realize all of those hopes and dreams in the final product.

So I’ll keep chugging along with editing book 2, and then I’ll move on to book 3. And along the way I’ll continue reading brilliant authors like Neil Gaiman so that I’ll be inspired to always strive to be a better writer.

P.S. Do you want a sneak peek at the covers of the next to books in The Road to Hope series? Click here.

Posted in Blog, Books I Love

Book Crush: ‘The Beauty in Darkness: A Vampire Story,’ by Leah Reise

beauty

he story of The Beauty in Darkness, the debut novel of Sonoma County author Leah Reise, starts with an awakening of sorts, and a wish for true death. Edrea stands at the gates of the Décret, a clan of vampires who are sure to tear her apart for arriving without invitation. This is exactly what she is hoping for. She is two days into her life as a vampire, having been turned on her 29th birthday following the mortal attack from a rapist who left her for dead. And dead is what she wishes to be. It’s the only way to curb the insatiable thirst that is consuming her from the inside out. Unfortunately for her, the Décret have other plans.

So begins the tale of this Sonoma County native, a girl-turned-vampire who is cast into the underground world of San Francisco where the creatures of the night walk below the feet of the living.

Through the story, we learn of Edrea’s roots—a mom who plays favorites, an emotionally distant father, a doting yet elusive brother, and a jealous sister. Edrea, herself, is a free spirit, comfortable in her solitude. And even with their faults, this family is bonded. But now that Edrea is one of the undead, she must forget her family and move on.

Edrea’s new family is now Pierre, her creator. With him, she is to work for the Décret. She has the rare ability of being able to read people’s thoughts, and it makes her a useful tool among this clan. However, Edrea senses early on that something seems to be amiss with their eagerness over her gift.

What I love about this story, first, is the author’s ability with description. Reise has a gift for painting the scene without overtelling, and still offering enough detail to allow for vivid imagery. I was able to see everything within the story, and was easily transported from scene to scene.

The second thing I love is that much of it takes place in Sonoma County locations. This is one of my favorite reasons to read books by local authors, as they often use familiar places within their stories. Reise doesn’t disappoint, taking her characters to Bodega Bay and Santa Rosa, though much of the story is set in San Francisco.

The third thing I love is how large a role family plays in The Beauty in Darkness. There are definite themes that take place from both Edrea’s old and new life, which I’ll let you find out on your own to avoid any spoilers.  As of yet, there doesn’t seem to be any sequels planned (and the end was blissfully free of a cliffhanger). But I can see how the story could easily be continued.

All in all, I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys supernatural and vampire fantasy.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Rated PG-13 for some non-graphic sexual and violence situations.

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Posted in Blog, Books I Love

Book Crush: ‘The Lazarus Kid,’ by Tim Farrington

the-lazarus-kidI am a huge fan of Tim Farrington, having discovered The Monk Downstairs a few years ago, followed by The Monk Upstairs, and then concluding with every other book Farrington has ever written before re-reading the Monk books again (and maybe again). So when I found out he had written another book, I got it and started reading immediately.

The follow-up to the first two Monk books, The Lazarus Kid does not disappoint. Farrington’s beautiful descriptive writing paints each scene, placing a microscope on some points or aspects of certain scenes, and panning way out for a broader view in others. Farrington has a way with believability, offering details that breathe so much life into each event, it’s almost as if you are right there inside the scene instead of just reading the story from a page.

The characters have evolved since the first two books. Mike is still contemplative and spiritual in both mind and mannerisms, but we now see him in a deeper role as a father and stepfather – even if much of his parenting is done at a distance due to chaos on the job. Rebecca is a better mom than I am of a precocious teen, handling infuriating circumstances with clenched fists and outward grace. And Mary Margaret is every bit the rebelling teen, though I never once found her character to be cliche. Rather, I saw my own teen daughter in her (hence, my awe at Rebecca’s skills of keeping a level head).

Of course, there’s so much more to the story, but I don’t want to offer any spoilers at all. Just know that when you read anything by Tim Farrington, you’ll never be disappointed. I can only hope that Mr. Farrington has more books up his sleeve very soon.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
PG for some adult language. Aimed at adults.

Posted in Blog, Books I Love

10 fairy tale retellings you’ve never read (but should)

fairy-tale-retellings

Fairy tale retellings are nothing new. Don’t believe me? Think of “Hook” with Robin Williams, “Snow White and the Huntsman” with Charlize Theron, “Ella Enchanted” with Anne Hathaway, and many, many more. And with the next season of “Once Upon a Time” starting this Sunday (can’t wait!), fairy tale retellings are even more popular right now.

The book world is no exception. Marissa Meyer made it big with The Lunar Chronicles, a series of books that started with Cinder (for Cinderella), then Scarlett (for Red Riding Hood), and so on. Then there’s Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry.

These are books that many fans of fairy tale retellings know. But there are so many more great books out there! Here are 10 fairy tale retellings you’ve probably never read, but should.

Cinderella Dreams of Fire, by Casey Lane. What if Cinderella wasn’t some nice young girl forced to the bidding of her stepmother, but lives a secret life? In Casey Lane’s version of this epic fairy tale, Cinderella is no ordinary girl. By day, she does her stepmother’s bidding. By night, Cinderella is a thief with no match. But a chance encounter with the prince complicates her mission. Worse, he wants to join her in her lawlessness.

Gaslight & Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales, an anthology. Originally backed by a successful Kickstarter, this collection of short stories mixes (mostly) Grimm’s Fairy Tales with Steampunk-styled stories. Imagine steam-powered technology in stories like The Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood, and Cinderella.

Kissing Midnight, by Laura Bradley Rede. A modern day retelling of Blackbeard, the immortal Deveraux Renard must make a girl fall in love with him every New Year’s Eve, or he dies. Her kiss will allow him to live one more year. It will also end her life. This year, his life is in the lips of Saintly, a girl who is crazy about her new boyfriend. But Saintly has a secret – she sees dead people. And one dead girl has a secret she’s dying to share.

Queen of Hearts, by Colleen Oakes. Before Alice fell down the rabbit hole, there was Princess Dinah. As the future queen of Wonderland, Dinah dreams of approval from her father and a future with the boy she loves. But a betrayal breaks her heart, threatening her path to the throne, and sending her toward her dark future as the Red Queen.

Swan Lake, by K.M. Shea. This author, by the way, is pretty prolific when it comes to fairy tale retellings. Swan Lake is just her latest in the 7-book Timeless Fairy Tales series. In this story, Odette is cursed to be a swan by day, and the guide to smugglers at night. There seems to be no way out. But when a handsome prince finds his way into her heart, Odette not only finds hope, but must make a choice between fulfilling her responsibilities or fighting beside the man she loves.

Peter: The Untold True Story, by Christopher Mechling. More a historical novel than a retelling, Christopher Mechling shares the possible inspiration behind Peter Pan, describing the adventures of a real wild boy who came to London, and the people who cared for him. While no magic exists in this story, the story is magical all the same.

Littlefoot Part One, by M.L. Millard. What if Cinderella never wanted to go to the ball? In this fairy tale novella, M.L. Millard offers a comical take on stories of Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and more in this first book of an upcoming series. As a devoted follower of her blog, I’ve fast become a fan of Millard’s writing style.

Zombie Fairy Tales, by Kevin Richey. What could make fairy tales better? Zombies, obviously. Fairy tales take a dark and twisted turn in this 12-story collection of your favorite characters who come back from the dead.

The Ugly Stepsister, by Aya Ling. After ripping up a childhood book, Kat is accidentally transported into the story of Cinderella. Worse, she’s one of the stepsisters! To leave, she’ll have to complete the story to its original happily ever after. But when the prince turns his attentions toward her, her HEA may never come.

Loving the Wind: The Story of Tiger Lily & Peter Pan, by Crissi Langwell. A must-read for Peter Pan fans, written by yours truly! Neverland is seen through the eyes of Tiger Lily, sharing about her life as the chief’s daughter, her dreams of being a warrior, her battles with the pirates, and the moment she meets the legendary Peter Pan and learns he’s nothing like the stories she’s heard. But soon she discovers his true story, and a secret that could end Neverland forever.

Do you have a favorite fairy tale retelling? Share in the comments!

Posted in Blog, Books I Love

Book crush: The Sea of Tranquility

tranquilityI’m not exactly crushing on The Sea of Tranquility, a novel by Katja Millay. However, I did enjoy reading it enough that I finished it in just a few days. And it’s a long book.

Let’s start from the beginning. I did not like the beginning. In fact, I was incredibly irritated with the beginning. We’re introduced to Nastya, a girl who can only think really hateful thoughts about anything and everything. She is carrying a huge secret about how her hand became mangled, and because of that, she has a huge chip on her shoulder. To top it off, she makes sure she is completely unapproachable by the way she dresses. Shooooort skirts. 4-inch heels. Painted on makeup. Everything tight. Her reasoning is that everyone is going to stare at her anyway, so she might as well have control over where they are staring.

This was the first thing I just couldn’t buy.

It goes on. She can’t cook to save her life. But apparently she can bake up a storm. She doesn’t talk, and is sexy/scary, and somehow that means the most popular guy in high school (Drew) is highly interested in her. She’s incredibly anti-social, and yet she keeps going to high school parties with him.

Here’s what I did enjoy.

Josh. This is Drew’s best friend who has basically lost his whole family to tragedy. He spends his entire life in his garage building furniture. It’s kind of old man-like, except it’s also sweet and manly at the same time. Think Sex and the City’s Aiden (Carrie, what were you thinking breaking up with him???).

Drew. Despite the fact that we’re introduced to a full-of-himself jock, he’s actually quite sensitive and sweet. He and Nastya have a totally inappropriate flirtatious relationship, but it becomes pretty clear that he’s not going to try anything because neither of them really want that.

Drew’s family. They’re basically that all-American family you wish could be yours, even if you’d probably be rolling your eyes the whole time. His mom has Sunday dinner every week, and anyone who wants to come is invited. It basically becomes a thing amongst all the friends. They even hold a family dinner when the parents are out of town, even if a bottle of tequila might be involved with the sit down dinner.

The build-up of Nastya and Josh’s relationship. Even if I hated the inevitable scenario that forced them to be apart (classic YA formula: MC is awkward and misunderstood. Meets love interest who’s awkward and misunderstood. Spends more than half of book denying love. Fall together in beautiful moment. One person messes up. Break up. Spends too long avoiding other person. Some thing or event forces them back together. Realizes they were in love the whole time. Lives happily ever after.), I enjoyed the sweetness within their relationship. With Josh, Nastya could let her hair down, strip off her makeup, and breathe easy. She kept her secrets, but she’s also safe with him.

So while this wasn’t my favorite book, I still recommend it. If you can overlook a few warts within the story, you’ll find a sweet tale of a broken girl who was dealt a hard lot in life, a broken boy who continues to live while everyone around him is dying, and a meant-to-be relationship that holds all the innocence neither of them had every been allowed to have.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
PG-13 for some violence and non-explicit sex.

Posted in Blog, Books I Love

Book crush: Hell’s Children

hellschildrenSometimes a book is so good, you don’t want it to end. And when it does, you go through a bit of a mourning period. This is a strange sentiment I’m feeling for a book titled Hell’s Children, but it’s where I’m at right now. The book starts out with Jack Ferris, a home-schooled kid who has to bury his own mom after a Sickness took her. The Sickness has stripped the world of all adults, leaving only kids behind, the oldest being 15, if they were lucky to survive the Sickness. Most older teens didn’t. Lucky for Jack, he’s learned survival skills from his parents, a couple who already foresaw that Jack would have to fare without them since they were seniors when they had him. Those survival skills are exactly what Jack needed to survive in this post-apocalyptic world, now run by various gangs of kids who are desperate to survive and void of morality. Jack and a few friends form their own group, and the story becomes a survival of the fittest with a dozen or more twists and turns.

The character development in this book is fantastic. There were so many characters mentioned, but the author did a great job giving each a distinct persona, and offering subtle reminders if a character hadn’t been mentioned in awhile. The last half of the book had me nervous, and I couldn’t stop reading until the end.

I totally recommend this book. In fact, I plan to buy a hard copy for my 15 year old son, who I think would love this. He’s not a reader, but when I mentioned the plot, he was fascinated.

Posted in Blog, Books I Love

8 books your mom will love on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is on Sunday, May 8, which means you still have time to find your mother the perfect gift to show her how much you appreciate her. What better way to show you care than with the perfect book? Here are 8 books your mom will love.

StopHere1. Stop Here, This is the Place: A Year in Motherhood, by Susan Conley and Winky Lewis.
In this nostalgic photo book, Winky Lewis would send Susan Conley a photo of their children every day for a year. In response, Conley would write a story about the photo. The result was a collection of heartwarming tales any mother would love.

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Angeloumom2. Mom & Me & Mom, by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s memoir details the complicated relationship she shared with her mother, Vivian Baxter. In her personal story, Angelou details how long it took her to warm to her mother after they were reunited, and the unconditional acceptance her mother handed back to her. The book offers the backstory to Angelou’s famed memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

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MysteryWriters3. The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, by Kate White
A few of your favorite mystery writers have banded together to share their most thrilling entrees, cozy desserts, seductive snacks and more with 100 recipes to inspire your next adventure. The book features full-color photos and reveals the links between food and foul play. Recipes are contributed by Mary Higgins Clark, Gillian Flynn, James Patterson, Charlaine Harris and more.

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capturemoment4. Capture the Moment, by Sarah Wilkerson
Not only is this book filled with gorgeous photos of family moments by female photographers, easy-to-follow tips are shared on taking the perfect photo — allowing moms to create impeccable memories that will be cherished for years to come.

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Operating instructions5. Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year, by Anne Lamott
This is the book that put Anne Lamott (my personal favorite author) on the map, and that also had moms around the world nodding with enthusiasm. In this memoir, don’t expect a glamorous view of what motherhood supposedly looks like. Expect the messy, raw, real and miraculous deal.

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color6. Color Me Stress-Free, by Lacy Mucklow and Angela Porter
Everyone deserves a break, especially Mom! Why not give her a coloring break? With the recent craze of adult coloring books, this book is the perfect way for mom to unwind. The 100 coloring templates are organized into therapeutically themed chapters that promise to melt away the stress of the day. If Mom likes this coloring book, it’s just one of several in the series, which includes Color Me Calm, Color Me Fearless, Color Me Happy and more.

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gift-from-the-sea7. Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
This book was first published in 1955, but the wisdom within the pages is timeless. Author Anne Lindbergh links together the types of seashells she gathers with the stages of a woman’s life — mother, wife, friend and grandmother. Her meditations capture youth and age, love and marriage, peace, solitude and contentment, and her essay has been inspiring women for the last six decades.

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golf-ball-cover-small8. Golf Balls, Eight Year Olds & Dual Paned Windows, by Crissi Langwell
Some of you may be familiar with these stories — personal essays I wrote for the Press Democrat with my Wine Country Mom column and blog featuring my children, the Taz and DQ. Now my kids are grown, but these stories pay homage to the time when they were in those precocious adolescent and pre-teen years, and I was just figuring things out as a single mom.