Monday, June 30, 2014

REVIEW: Think and Grow Dead

Title: Think and Grow Dead
Author: Max W Miller
Genre: Short story, suspense, paranormal, horror
Publisher: Ironshield Marketing LLC
Publication date: 5.26.2014
Pages: 35

Date read: 6.24.2014
Recommended by: The author, Read 2 Review

Summary: A prosperous architect decides to give up his downtown office and move his business to his home. His so called noble purpose is to spark his creativity by gazing down the spectacular hillside of his California estate. But the true reason has everything to do with his beautiful Hawaiian neighbor, Linda Mahelona, who works daily in her greenhouse right in plain view.
     Michael Henson's appetite for unfaithfulness has driven a wedge between him and his wife, Patty. Now with his mind obsessively thinking about Linda, Patty had become a non-factor. Finally, he makes his move by going to see Linda. She gives him a tour of the exotic flowers in her green house, one in particular is a monstrous plant called a Silversword. The Silversword frightens Michael, but not enough for him to abandon his corrupt intent for Linda.
     Ever been bullied to the point of thinking about suicide? Ever suffered through the mental anguish and shame that comes after rape? Ever been beaten into submission? Do you believe in justice? If you answered yes to any of these questions: the end of "Think and Grow Dead" will read like Sweet Revenge.

Michael has become obsessed with his beautiful neighbor, Linda, despite the fact that he has a wife and children, and she has a husband in the military away on duty. Michael is not one to take no for an answer and payback really is a …

Talk about giving the complete story away. The book description, the dedication page – we all know, before even beginning the story, that a rape is involved, and after knowing Michael for less than a page, you know it's him. We also know that there's a twist and revenge (the book description calls this: "A quirky tale of sweet revenge"). Was there even a point of reading the story? Not really. It really was lame. The payback idea was kinda cool, but the story was just not done well. The characters aren't likeable and the way people behaved wasn't believable – she was willing to take it for the team, I guess, just to be able to get her revenge. I did like the cover, though, if that helps. But that's about all I liked.

REVIEW: Blogging Bonanza

Title: Blogging Bonanza
Author: Nathan Beck
Publication date: 4.1.2014
Genre: Blogging

Date read: 6.24.2014
Recommended by: The author, Read 2 Review

The full name of this book is Blogging Bonanza: Powerful, No Sweat, Massive Money Making Tips to Get Your Blog Up and Running, Churning Out Cash in No Time Flat Guaranteed! That's a lot to offer in 26 pages. And that's the first thing I thought of when I was contacted by the author. I didn't create my blog to make money, nor do I have any plans to change that now, but when the author contacted me asking me to read his book, I thought 'why not??'

I was highly disappointed with this book, starting with the book description on Amazon. There are minor editing issues, a poor definition of blogging, a pathetic "Glossary of Internet & Blogging Terms," and the few blogging tips that were provided were obvious and can be found anywhere on the internet. "…if you follow the steps found in this book…" – what steps? The book gives the idea of how to do this and a few places to look, but no real information. The author even says that the book will lay out the steps needed to create a Wordpress blog, but falls short on that too.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Crimson Heart Blog Tour - Interview

Interview of Author Heather McCollum

Hi, Heather. Welcome to The Gal in the Blue Mask. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hello everyone! Let's see – I'm a mom of three rather loud and spirited kids, ages 15, 13 and 7. I'm a dog mom of a crazy, rescued golden retriever and wife to my very own Highland hero, Braden. I'm also an author of historical, paranormal romance.

What are 5 things about you that most people don't know?

Hmmm…this needs to be rated PG right? ;)
  1. I lived in a real haunted house for five years. It was a manor house of a plantation built before the Civil War, and it was used as a hospital for Union soldiers in the Virginia area.

  2. I pierced my belly button when I was 31 years old, but it closed up when I had to take it out with my third pregnancy.

  3. I'm an ovarian cancer survivor. Did 15 months of chemo three years ago to beat the crap out of it (arm pump and victory dance!).

  4. My husband's family is Scottish (and English) so he wears the McCollum tartan kilt to my book signings.

  5. I have an extensive tea pot collection and make myself a pot every chance I get. I lure my muse out to help me write with Chai tea lattes, heavy on the cinnamon.

What is the first book you remember reading?

First book was probably Fox in Sox by Dr. Seuss when I was 7 years old.
    First romance book I read was the Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss when I was a freshman in high school. Ironically the hero and heroine in the book are Brandon and Heather and I marred a Braden (pretty close!).

What made you decide to begin writing?

I've always written stories and poems, since I was little. By high school I was writing romance. Everyone thought I'd be an English major. I surprised them all by majoring in Cellular Immunology, a branch of Biology, instead. It's funny how I've come back around full circle to my first love, writing.

Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Besides the Chai lattes? Yes :)
    I'm a very visual writer. I like to see my characters (basic features and strong emotions) and settings (authentic historical details). So I create collages for my books. I take a day toward the beginning of each new project to cut out pictures of landscapes, people and objects that mean something to my story. I paste them on an open folder, poster board or even in a blank book to give me something to glance at while writing.
    I've also started using a process that Blake Snyder describes in his screenwriting book, Save the Cat. It helps with plotting and pacing. I use a big white board, divided into four acts, and lots of index cards.

Do you have a special place you like to write?

I have a lovely little writing desk with curvaceous, slender legs which I've named Eleri. I light my stained glass lamp (named Jule) and lose myself in my stories. But on cool days (I live in the south so below 90 degrees is a must) I sit with my laptop on my screened back porch and write. Out there I can listen to the birds and breezes and smell my herb garden.

Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Apart from stubborn characters who refuse to follow my plot … I think the business of writing is a challenge for me. I'd be very happy to sit all day writing my adventures and love scenes instead of trying to toot my own horn on Twitter. But alas, nowadays one must be everywhere so people know about your work. It's challenging to keep up with all the promotion tasks AND write the next amazing book. I do love chatting with fans though! That part is awesome.

What do you think makes a good story?

Dangerous external conflict and thick internal conflict. Add in interesting, fully rounded characters who you would love to know or be and a happy ending that makes you sigh, and you've got a winner!

What book(s) have most influenced you?

Gosh – there are so many! Starting with Kathleen E. Woodiwiss and Julie Garwood's books which introduced me to romance. Sense and Sensibility by the amazing Jane Austen (really all her books) and then every book I read. They all influence me, sparking ideas of my own, and teaching me techniques and showing me different ways that people fall in love.

What inspires you most?

Seeing people overcome adversity while keeping their spirits bright and positive. As an ovarian cancer warrior I met many of these people. They have all inspired me and my writing in some way.

Where do the ideas for your book come from?

Ideas for Crimson Heart came mostly from my fabulous trip to Scotland last summer. We stayed on a loch in the Highlands, and I toured Edinburgh castle, just perfect for the setting of my latest story. St. Margaret's Chapel, on the grounds of Edinburgh castle, was quaint, ancient and authentic. I knew immediately that it would be a part of Crimson Heart.

Which of your characters do you think is the most like you?

I am probably most like Rachel Munro in Crimson Heart. She is Searc's mother and a great healer. She steadfastly believes in his good heart despite his killing magic. She is fierce, brave and strong when it comes to loving her child. I am the same when it comes to my three kids.

What have you learned creating this book?

Well I learned a lot about the 16th century Scottish monarchy and Edinburgh. J I also learned not to force my characters to do something they don't want to do. I had to rewrite the first 70 pages of Crimson Heart three times because I kept trying to make Searc tell jokes. He'd just roll his eyes and walk away from me (not literally or I'd just be plain crazy). Search has a lot of dark baggage from his youth and feels his magic is a curse. That doesn't make one very light hearted. Search is more piercing stares and angst with lots of alpha passion.
    Yes, I learned (the hard way) that an author must create their characters and then write them authentically. The characters become real people with real personalities, and making them do something outside their personality doesn't work.

What do you think your readers will take away from this book?

They will learn a little about the Scottish court and how the Scots and French viewed English rule during the Renaissance. But what I'm hoping they will take away has to do with the underlying theme. Life is all about perspective (I learned this battling cancer). Searc views his magic as a curse yet in the end the same magic is a gift. Everything in life is viewed through our personal lenses. If we choose the positive lens, seeing the silver lining however faint it might be, our lives will be so much fuller.

What makes your book different than others that fall under this genre?

The Highland Hearts series reads like a Scottish/English historical series, which I love all by itself. But I also weave in a paranormal element with the inherited magic. Parts of the series are set in historically accurate facts while other parts are realistically portrayed fantasy.

What can we expect from you in the future?

Crimson Heart is the last full-length novel I have planned in the Highland Hearts series, although I'm contemplating a long novella to follow it. I have another historical paranormal romance series, The Dragonfly Chronicles, for which I'm writing the fifth and final novel, Sacrifice. And the sequel to my first YA contemporary, paranormal romance, Siren's Song, will be coming out the first of next year.
    Once done with those projects I will stop ignoring the whole slew of characters vying for my attention in my head. Let's see – there's a ghostly contemporary series (based on my haunted house of course), a YA sci-fi dystopian trilogy, and another Scottish historical paranormal series based out of the northern isles of ancient Scotland. So many stories! I just need to find the time to write them all.

Thanks for joining us today, Heather. :) One more thing before you go, though: Where can we find you?

Thanks for having me here today! Your questions were wonderful. For more information on me and my books, please stop by my web site at  I can also be found here:

Twitter: @HMcCollumAuthor 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Between the Bindings with Gamal Hennessy

I had the pleasure of meeting Gamal last year when he was looking for people to read an ARC of one of his books. He's an interesting guy, full of all kinds of information. He also has a free weekly newsletter you might want to check out (you can sign up ).

Writing as a Lifelong Love Affair

I'm not an expert on self-publishing.

I don't even refer to what I do as self-publishing. I call it "independent publishing" because it implies that I publish outside the traditional publishing system. "Self-publishing" implies that I do everything myself and that's not true. I have a lot of formal and informal help with my books that make them better than anything I could do alone. I want to acknowledge that every time I talk about this business.

Anyway, I've only been in the game for about two years. As of February 2014, I'll only have one novel, eight short stories and one anthology to my name. Because I don't have a book publishing background, I spend a lot of time learning about the business. Some of my education comes from research. Most of what I've learned comes from making my own mistakes. I make a lot of mistakes, so I guess I've learned a lot.

I share what little I know through my newsletter, The Independent Publishing Network. Every week I explore the minutiae of an industry that is changing every day. People have told me that information is really helpful, but if I had to boil down all the details of what I know into one piece of advice for a new writer, I would say treat your writing with love instead of lust.

So what the hell does that mean?

When a person falls in love, they offer their time, energy and creativity to the loved one with enthusiasm. They bring the best aspects of themselves to the process. They make an effort to keep the relationship going, because they want it to last as long as possible. They are always looking for new ways to express their love. They are proud to display that affection in public. Part of what defines the lover is the person they are in love with.

A person in lust wants to get something from the object of their desire as quickly as possible. They are often single minded and ruthless in their pursuits. They jump from target to target, never taking the time to establish a bond or relationship with anyone. They often repeat a scripted pattern of behavior with each new target. They often act in secret or with a certain amount of shame. They are more defined by their hungers than their connections to others.

All this might seem abstract, but the concept of love vs. lust has concrete applications for an independent publisher.
  • A writer in love with writing wants to publish as many books as they can in their lifetime. A writer in lust with writing wants that one book that will give them money, recognition, sex or whatever it is they are really after.
  • A writer in love with writing writes about things that they are passionate about. A writer in lust with writing writes stories that they think are "hot" or take advantage of a pop culture trend.
  • A writer in love with writing takes time to learn their craft and find their voice. A writer in lust doesn't want to invest time and effort because they think writing is fundamentally easy.
  • A writer in love with writing uses social media to make connections with readers and other writers. A writer in lust with writing uses every social media post to scream "please buy my book."
  • A writer in love with writing reads a lot. A writer in lust with writing is only interested in other writers when he's trying to sell them his book.
  • A writer in love with writing will start on a new project soon after the current one is done. A writer in lust with writing checks the sales figures on their book every thirty minutes instead of writing, hoping they'll see a magical flood of royalties.
  • A writer in love with writing will experiment and try new things to improve both their writing craft and their publishing business. A writer in lust with writing is looking for that one gimmick or magic bullet that will make his book sell.
  • A writer in love with writing takes pride in their catalog and tries to expose it to you as many people as possible in as many ways as they can. A writer in lust with writing will reject independent publishing as dead after the first book fails because their book isn't a bestseller.
You get the idea.

I'm not trying to imply that I haven't committed lustful thoughts and actions (both inside and outside of writing). As far as the writing is concerned, the things I've done based on lust have been some of my biggest mistakes.

I'm not saying that writers in lust always fail and writers in love always succeed. I am saying that when I started loving the process of writing I had less stress and more fun with the experience. You may or may not become the next Stephen King. If you love what you're doing, it won't really matter.

Have fun.

Thank you, Gamal. What you have shared brought a lot of things into perspective.

Friday, June 13, 2014

REVIEW: The Pauper (The Pauper Blog Tour)

The Fall 3
The Pauper
Author: May Nicole Abbey
Publisher: River Valley Publishing
Publication date: 3.27.2014
Pages: 253

Date read: 6.12.2014
Recommended by: Sage's Blog Tours, Read 2 Review

A mysterious stranger. A desperate mission. A grueling journey through space and time.
    Life had always been an exciting adventure to Heather Higgins. Even after the death of her father, the loss of a fortune, and a disappointing proposal, she yet sees the future as bright and full of possibilities. At the miraculous appearance of a mysterious man with piercing green eyes and a powerful intellect, Heather knows she has met her destiny. Whether he likes it or not.
    In pursuit of a dangerous mission, Ammon Maharahi doesn't have time for spoiled, doe eyed beauties. But no matter how hard he tries, he cannot dismiss her. Amidst his frantic travels through time and space in the effort to fix a dark future, his illness wears him down. He must find and stop a fellow time traveler before it is too late and all is lost. Tired, ill and disheartened, he wonders if he is fighting a losing battle when Heather Higgins is thrust into his path, infusing energy and life into his weary heart.
    But time is running out. The answer lies with a gifted university professor from the future, as bizarre as she is brilliant. As Ammon and Heather race through time to unlock the puzzle, they know Ammon's life and the future of all mankind slip closer to catastrophe with every tick of the clock.

This is the third book in a series of books on time traveling. The first is about Rachel and a band of pirates, the second about Serena and the pharaohs of Egypt … and the third about Heather and Ammon, who are trying to put everything right again. They are all linked together and I suggest you read them in order or you will miss out on very important information. (My reviews on the first two will be coming soon.)

The idea – the plot – of this series is very interesting and this book brings to light what I always think about when the topic of time travel comes up – one little change will affect everything. I like how it is expressed – through notes, journal writing – memories of things that have happened, with explanations and thoughts from now, looking back, added in. The writing is well done and you learn a lot about the characters, especially the main one, who is forced to share everything, including feelings she didn't want shared.

I am torn on this one. I cannot stand Heather (I'll explain) and yet I couldn't put it down. There is a fun adventure in these pages, some intense moments – and there were parts that I really enjoyed. Seeing how things changed with each "fall" were captivating and I found it to be well written and exciting.

But then there is Heather. Until this series, I had yet to REALLY loathe a character in a book (even the evil ones), not compared to how I feel about these women. From somewhere around the second chapter, I realized what kind of person Heather was, and I didn't like her. She changed her life for a stranger, sure that he would want her without even knowing her (which, we find out, she did once before), then has the audacity to be cruel when she is the one who had ulterior motives in the first place. A nasty piece of work – spoiled, judgmental, jealous – looks down on those around her, blames everyone else for her problems. Because of her, I wanted to put the book down, but I kept reading, waiting for her to somehow redeem herself (as those who came before her had). In Chapter 9, I thought we (me, the reader, and Ammon) were finally done with her, but I was wrong.
    After their first "fall," she goes instantly from begging Ammon to be with her, angry that he does not want her, even trying to force him to do what she wants, to praying to God (in her head) that she can "keep" his brother Darius *rolls eyes* And it is only after finding out that Darius has several other wives (they were back in Egypt when pharaohs still walked the earth) that she decides to set her eyes back on Ammon.
    Heather never redeemed herself in my eyes (maybe she will in yours). Even though she did grow, she did see that maybe, just maybe, she had been wrong about some things, made the wrong decisions, I never cared for her, never cared what happened to her. I never believed that she cared about anyone but herself, no matter what she said, what she did, what she wrote.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Gal on Luxury Reading #4

I am excited to let you know about my FOURTH review on Luxury Reading – a review on Small Plates, a group of short stories that were lots of fun to read. Go check it out. And while you're there, snoop around – there are lots of fun reviews there … and even a giveaway or two. :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

REVIEW: Cinderella’s Dress

Cinderella's Dress
Author: Shonna Slayton
Publisher: Entangled Publishing (Entangled Teen)
Publication date: 6.3.2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 340

Date read: 6.9.2014
Recommended by: Read 2 Review

Being seventeen during World War II is tough. Finding out you're the next keeper of the real Cinderella's dress is even tougher.
    Kate simply wants to create window displays at the department store where she's working, trying to help out with the war effort. But when long-lost relatives from Poland arrive with a steamer truck they claim holds the Cinderella's dress, life gets complicated.
    Now, with a father missing in action, her new sweetheart shipped off to boot camp, and her great aunt losing her wits, Kate has to unravel the mystery before it's too late.
    After all, the descendants of the wicked stepsisters will stop at nothing to get what they think they deserve.

I love historical fiction - there is just something amazing about reading stories based in a time before I was born. I am not, however, a fan of romance, but … mixed in with historical fiction, it has its place … and I actually enjoy it. This book – not just historical fiction, not just a clean romance, but Cinderella. You mention Cinderella (or any of the other fairy tales that I love) and – I am always amazed at the stories that people come up with based on the old classics.

Have you ever wondered what the rest of Cinderella's story was? What happened to her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren…? Where her dress is now? That is what this story is about – and so much more. World War II, family, friends, teen love, window designs, modeling and fashion – it was so much to read.

This story was beautiful. The characters were ones that you wanted to know more about, that you grew close to, that you cheered for when they did good, worried about when they were harmed, hoped the best for when they were in trouble (fingers crossed and all).

I want to know more and, with the way that the story ended – and the fact that there are some things that happened in the story that never came to a conclusion – I really hope there is going to be a second book. The story only barely touched on the father's disappearance, Cinderella's step-sisters and the necklace, Kate's brother is still overseas. I look forward to what comes next.

I loved this book enough to give it a 5, but chose to give it a 4 because of one big thing that I noticed but, after skimming other reviews, it seems to me that I am the only one who noticed. When Kate's aunt began telling her the story of the dress, she did not know the English translation of Cinderella's name. Even though the person reading the story knew it was Cinderella (based on the name of the book and the description), Kate did not. Yet, in the book, it is referred to as Cinderella's dress (16% "Kate leaned forward, eager for a look. She held her breath, wondering what the Cinderella dress would look like.") long before the translation was remembered by Elsie (21%"A young girl made to be servant, shoveling out cinders for her stepmother. Then she escapes to ball where she meets prince of the land. I found her English name. You call her Cinderella."). This may not seem like a big deal to you, but to me it is HUGE. It gives away the story. I, as a reader, was anticipating this conversation between Kate and Elsie, and when the conversation finally happened, it didn't have as much strength as it could have – as it should have.
      On a side note, I also feel like the book description gave away too much and, at the same time, gave away misinformation and I really don't like that. You see, when I read these (which is why I usually skim them or don't read them at all) and you tell specific things that are going to happen, instead of enjoying the build up to the story, I … wait for those things to happen. And in this one, one of the things that it says – "her new sweetheart is shipped off to boot camp" – is untrue. They are not sweethearts. She is interested in him and there's a possibility that he is interested in her, they write letters back and forth, but there is no anything really, other than friendship, until the end of the story. (Sorry that I gave this away for those of you reading this, but it was given away already.) Also, the disappearance of her father – why did that have to be shared in the description? I mean, I know you want to get people interested, but the disappearance would have had a lot more impact – just as Aunt Elsie "losing her wits" – if it had been left out of the book description so that the reader could find this out on their own as the story progressed.

Book description dislikes from an avid reader

Let's talk a little bit about book descriptions. I have come to the point where I am just plain fed up with these. It is actually a joke with my friends whenever I say I'm reading a book, them wondering whether I even bothered to read the description this time. It just seems like, lately, the whole situation has gone from bad to worse. And I can tell you that you are losing sales because of this "misinterpretation" you have when it comes to book descriptions.

Here are the things that I take issue with:
Editing issues: Why would I want to purchase your book when you don't even have a properly written book description? This does not look good to readers, especially ones that are tired of the self-edited books that have not had a proper edit done.

Are longer than the actual story: The book description if FOREVER long and I have grown bored reading it. Have you ever felt that way? I am especially peeved when it is a description of a short story or novella (feeling like it is longer than what it is describing), but five or six … or more … paragraphs is too long.

Way too much description: The idea of a book description is to give a little bit of information about the book, enough to entice the potential reader to WANT to buy your book and read it. NOT to give away the entire story, NOT to give away major parts. When you give away too much, then the reader knows what is coming next and doesn't get that thrill or the sense of mystery that the readers expect (and that you want to give).
I have actually read a few descriptions that have given the whole story away. The one that comes to mind at this moment is a mystery that I reviewed for the author not too long ago. It spoke of the murder, then talked about a second murder that happened, which showed that the person (and it gave the person's name) that they had tried for the first murder was innocent (note: the investigation was over 50% of the book), and even talked about how the real murderer killed this person (and the person who was falsely accused) before he was caught. At the time I received the book, the book was not up on Amazon yet, so I fortunately had not read the description, but it was not the only thing terribly wrong with this book. Why would you do this to your readers? What is the point? Having looked at the description, there was really no point in my reading the book – I could have just looked at the last chapter to find out the killer.

Nothing but reviews OR about the other books the reader may like: This has been something I've noticed more and more of lately. And something I dislike, something that will make me not purchase your book at all. Instead of a book description, the author chooses to use reviews praising the work to get people to buy the book. And most of the time, these reviews tell you nothing about the book, so you are still lost trying to figure out what it is that you are going to be reading about. They choose those reviews that say "absolute best book ever written" or "…you'll ever read," "fabulous characters," "superb…" plot, title, cliff hanger, writing, creativity, whatever.
If I want to read the reviews, Amazon has TWO spots for them: the place at the bottom for Amazon reviews and the place in the middle for Editorial reviews. Please, keep your reviews there. Book description is for that alone. Now, I know you want to show your potential readers that people have loved this book – I understand this – but do it in the right spot. It is especially bad when you choose to put them first, in front of the review (if you are reading it on the Kindle or on the phone app, it actually makes it hard to read and time consuming when you do this). And, a new trend, the big orange writing – not cool at all.
I have also seen (quite a bit actually) a list of books that you "may like if you like" the book that you are looking at (and they are not all done by the same author). But no description. At all. HOW do I know if I'm going to like the book – or any of these other books – if I don't have a book description at all? 

Are misleading: I have never felt like I was lied to in a book description, not really … until today. You see, I have been planning this blog post for some time, but kept putting it off, feeling like I would just come across as a big complainer. But today, today I read the description of a book I just completed and really enjoyed. When I was preparing my review, I read through the book description as I was putting it on my post, and realized that this was a great example of reviews gone wrong. The author gave away a couple of key points in the story, which I felt would have been more impactful had she (or her publisher) not done so. But then I realized that one of those key points was not the truth. It mentions a relationship that did not happen until the end of the story, mentions it as if, in the beginning of the story, it was something more than what it was. It was misleading. Maybe in a small way, but misleading none-the-less. And lying to your readers … let's just say, it is taking everything in me not to delete another star from the rating, but I have mentioned it in my review.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

You, Me ... and a Cup of Tea with the Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile

I know, I know … it's been awhile since I've done one of these and I apologize. When things get crazy, they get CRaZy!!
    Today we have with us Jessica, the Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile. I was lucky enough to meet this gal on BookLikes and she is just awesome - hilarious, creative and gorgeous!! :)

Hey, Jessica. Thanks for joining us here on The Gal. My first question: Who are you?

Hi there! My name is Jessica, and I'm a bookaholic.

Tell us 5 random facts about yourself.

You asked for it! Five random facts it is: 1) I'm also a nail polish addict. 2) I collect teddy bears (What? They're fluffy!) 3) I was allergic to chocolate until I was 10. 4) I've been with my husband for 12 years, 10 of which we were dating! 5) I love meeting new people.

How long have you been blogging and how did you get started?

I've been blogging for over four years now! Man, that makes me feel old. Anyway, I stumbled upon the blogging universe on accident when looking for a publisher's review of a book. I decided I wanted a place like that of my own. So I made one!

What is your favorite spot to read?

Definitely in bed. I just love being all cozy under a blanket and devouring a good book. :)

What is the best book you've read this month (because anything longer is WAY too hard to choose :D)?

It's only the third of May as I type this, but so far my favorite book has been The Inventor's Secret by Andrea Cremer! It started off my month with a steampunk filled bang!

What is the worst book you've ever read?

Ack, that's a tough call. Mainly because I normally don't finish books I'm not totally in love with. I think L.A. Candy by Lauren Conrad fits this bill though.

If you could be a fictional character in any book, who would you be and why?

I would definitely be Hermoine in Harry Potter! I mean, come on. She's smart, she's tough, she gets to use magic … what's not to love?

What is your favorite part of blogging?

My favorite part of blogging is interacting with other readers. Whether it's through a comment, or Twitter, I love meeting people who love books as much as I do!

What is your least favorite?

My least favorite part of blogging is managing my schedule. When I first started, it wasn't too bad because I only worked a part time job. Now I work full time, so it takes a lot of organizing to keep things going smoothly.

Which social media tool do you enjoy using the most and why?

BookLikes! If you asked me six months ago, I would have said Twitter. It's a blast to hang out with people over there. BookLikes quickly took that spot though. The group of people I've met there are AH-MAH-ZING.

If you could interview any author, who would it be?

I would LOVE to interview Barry Lyga. He's a YA author, and I've fallen in love with his Jasper Dent series. I don't think I'd be able to talk to him though. I'd probably just stutter.

Do you have any blogger words of wisdom?

Best piece of advice? Don't make blogging a job. If you need a break? Take a break. If you can only post three days a week? Only post three days a week! Don't let anyone make you feel bad for handling your blog the way that you need to :). Reading is fun, and blogging should be too!

Thanks for coming by, Jessica.  But before you go, one more thing: For those that aren't in the know, where can we find you?

You can find me at Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile, which is my main blog!  you can also find me on BookLikes (where I chat MUCH MORE) at HDB on BookLikes, if you'd like!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Between the Bindings with J Leigh

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to interview her, and now she's back to give us some author advice. Great advice too! :)
      I look forward to these each and every week because the information – the advice – these authors give is so beneficial to the people who read this blog. It is actually my most looked at post each week and I get emails often thanking me for passing on the wonderful advice these authors choose to share.

Originality is in the Details
I'm writing this advice in part because one of the best writers I've ever known – and I mean put pen to paper, creating brilliant turns of phrase, literary geniuses – recently gave up writing because she felt she wasn't 'original enough.' This idea steamed from the long, long term internal struggle within herself to feel as if her work was 'truly different' and 'unlike anything out there.' Anytime she came up with anything (and she came up with plenty) she's always eventually come across something else that was 'too close' and then start over with her own work. Now while some of these were legitimate 'need to scrap' ideas, the vast majority were not. There was only a glimmer of similarity, the parallel only discernible if you were looking for things to nit-pick about. But it was always enough to dissuade her, and eventually, as I said, she gave up.

Now, the reason I bring this up is because, at one point, I suffered from the same issue. I've been writing novels since I was very young (first one was at the age of eleven) and well, I did the clich├ęs. I wrote things that I thought were new ideas but weren't, and sometimes I just wrote my little heart out only to discover someone wrote the same exact plot ten, twenty-sum years ago in another country and we were just now getting the translations in English. Heck, I've been doing this so long that ideas I wrote up when I was young suddenly showed up in newly published novels and I had to go back into my manuscripts and change them. It's the way of the business – similar minds think alike, and we're all writers. We all draw from each other and read the same books, and while I'm not saying plagiarism is in anyway okay to go do (because it's not), I guess what I am getting at is that sometimes, as writers, we set the bar too high on what is "original."

And so this is my real advice: originality is in the details. And sometimes, not even all the details. As another good writer friend of mine once told me, "If there's room in the world for 4 flavors of CSI  and Law and Order, than there's room in it for Way Walkers and Lord of the Rings." It's good to have a fresh voice, a fresh approach, an original spin, and you should never, ever, copy from another author directly, but to all the aspiring writers out there: really, it's okay if your heartfelt creation is a little bit like another author's story. Just make certain that you've gone the extra mile to add as much of yourself into it as possible. Do research into obscure cultures and bring in details from their elaborate courting rituals. Look up the fashion of western Poland in the 1300s and describe their shoes. Make your characters vibrant and alive with hopes, dreams and unusual flaws.

Most importantly, read outside of your chosen genre. As readers, we tend to get comfortable with certain patterns within a specific genre – as writers, we need to shake it up. There's no rule that says a romance novel can't suddenly have space aliens bust into it, so long as you do the work to have it make sense, and enrich the story. And it doesn't need to be large plot aspects – take the details, the minutia, and sprinkle it throughout your tale. It will be stronger for it.

Do whatever it takes to make your story feel full, full of details and circumstances that you know only you've come up with. And then don't panic if there's still something similar out there. It will happen. But you know what will also happen? You'll have had that moment of true originality somewhere in there, that spark of you, and that will carry your story.

Your advice today really hit home with me. I have been working on writing a novel for the last two or three years (here and there) and the more book descriptions I read, the more I think it may be like everyone else's. What you have said here is SO true. (See, you not only helped my readers, but me too.)

Until next time y'all …

My Adventure with the Kindle Paperwhite Update

When Amazon came up with their new version of the Paperwhite, I was a little annoyed. Instead of doing what most companies do – provide an update for users to download – it made quite a bit of fun little things only available on that new Paperwhite, which made those of us with the "old" Paperwhite have only one option if we wanted the new stuff – buy a new one. The first thing I did was complain because there is nothing wrong with the one I have, so why should I be forced to buy another one? I assume that there were a lot more complaints besides just mine because Amazon made an update available for us as well.

To say I was excited when I found this out is an understatement (though I wish they would have emailed me about it – heck, they email me about everything else – or done some sort of promotion on it so that we all knew about it – it was not an easy thing to find; I actually found it by accident under their media section). I did a little research online, looked at what other people had to say about the update (which, sadly, wasn't much), and downloaded it.

They not only added things – Word building (when you look up a word in the dictionary, it saves all of those words in one place), Kindle free time (allows you to set reading times for kids, or even yourself, and when the time is up, it closes down), and Goodreads on Kindle – but they changed some of the things that were already on there – notes, bookmarks, dictionary & Wikipedia, the "sleep" button, and collections.

The collections part was a big deal to me. I had suggested time and time again to Amazon that they needed to find a way for us to organize our books on the Cloud. We had collections (folders) ON the Kindle, which allowed us to organize the books on there, but there is only so much room. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to people who only have a hundred or so books, but when you get up to a larger number, it makes things harder to find. (Plus, I'm super organized and if I am looking for a specific kind of book – i.e. mystery – I want to be able to easily find the mysteries I own.)
    NOW your collections are on both the Cloud and Kindle – and they hold items from both. So, let's say you have a collection for Sherlock Holmes books. You have a few in the Cloud, but you're reading one and you have another that you already read (when the book is in the Cloud, you can't tell if you've read it or not unless you download it, so I keep them on my Kindle, at least for now). One folder, all books there. You can have as many collections as you want, and there is no set amount of books that can go into each one. The only way you can see books that you have in the Cloud, without going to the Cloud, is if they are in folders. And, when you go to the Cloud, if you have the "Collections" choice selected, they are all there too.

The notes and bookmarks are one of the reasons that I love the Kindle. They are so easy to use and it means I use a lot less sticky notes (when I read a physical book, I take notes on the sticky notes and stick them on the inside of the cover – you know if I really liked the book, or learned a lot, when there are sticky notes inside the back cover too haha). They changed this around a little bit – bookmarks take two steps to use, there is a separate list of bookmarks and notes (makes it easier to find things), and typing in the notes has become easier.
    When you highlight a word, instead of having to go find Wikipedia on the list under "More," it's now listed in a column next to the definition (you just have to select that column). This works out a lot better, and the only issue that I've had is, when you go to delete a highlighted passage, "delete" is now under "More" (I forget and end up hitting the wrong thing, but I will soon get used to it).
    The "sleep" button is now actually helpful. Did anyone else hate that thing as much as I did before? You had to hold it down, while standing on your head, wearing a Superman cape, with all your toes and fingers crossed, hoping – HOPING!! – that THIS TIME it would restart the Kindle. Now, when you hold it for a few seconds, you have two options: Restart and Screen Off. (I don't use the Screen Off option because I have a cover that automatically puts it to sleep when I close the cover. LOVE that thing.)

I have been using this for about two months now and have played with everything the new update has to offer (I wanted to make sure I had all my ducks in a row before I wrote this post). I have some LOVES and I have some HATES.

First, you download the update on to your computer, then connect your Kindle via USB to put the update on. (Be forewarned: If you have too much on your Kindle, it will make you move things to the Cloud before it will allow you to do this.) It goes on to your Kindle rather quickly and shuts it off, then restarts it. Shortly after it restarts, it says it is ready to go.
    STOP! This is NOT true. I tried playing with it when it said it was done and it froze, wouldn't work, moved VERY slowly, didn't save things I had changed, etc. I ended up having to put it down for the night (which was really hard for me – it was like a new toy all over again), but everything was adjusted the next morning and I was able to play around with it.
    Any collection that you have created (even the ones you have deleted) will be on your screen, so you have to reorganize, delete collections, etc. – and it takes some time to get everything working properly. But the collections are VERY helpful. (If you have quite a few books on your Cloud, organizing will take a lot of time – I still am not done, but I am working on it.)

The frustrations: Sometimes it freezes in the middle of doing something (including reading, when you go to flip the page) and you have to restart the device (which is easier now – trying to be positive); occasionally I put something in a collection, only to find it back in that place later on (which means I have to move it AGAIN); my battery doesn't last near as long as it used to (no one can tell me why – and I have not increased how much I read).

Am I glad I updated my Kindle? YES!! I just hope that they take care of those smaller issues I mentioned as they "work to make our customers happy and our products the best on the market."

Did you download the update? Or purchase the new Paperwhite? Tell me what you think.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

REVIEW: A Taste of Honey

A Taste of Honey
Author: Gamal Hennessy
Publisher: Nightlife Publishing
Publication date: 5.8.2014
Genre: Spy, Intrigue, Thriller, Espionage
Pages: 227

Date read: Last year (beta read), 4.20.2014 (re-read)
Recommended by: Read 2 Review

In the wrong hands, seduction is a deadly weapon.
    Nikki Siriene will do anything for her lover Chris. She'll use her sexual charms to spy for him. She'll deal with everything from the constant slut shaming of his mercenaries to the threat of sudden violence from his targets. But she wants a better life. When Chris brings her to Argentina to seduce a suspected arms dealer, Nikki hopes this will be the last job; the one that will keep them together.
    Getting close to a powerful man is easy for a woman with Nikki's skills. Dealing with his paranoid business partner and mysterious wife create complications and problems she couldn't anticipate. The jealousy and danger increase until one explosive secret could cost Nikki her lover, her sanity and her life.

I originally read this book as a beta read last year. Funny story. I was pretty sure the author would never let me read one of his books again, not after the email he received when I was done with the first one.
    Ya see, after reading the first one, I was very angry with him. It was several short stories having to do, in one way or another, with a particular gentleman. And I really enjoyed the stories. Until the last one. The last one … was the beginning of this novel … and I was very disappointed that he not only ruined the first book by adding the beginning of a story he knew he wasn't going to complete for some time, but also because he was making me wait to see what happened. Now, that book was a beta read as well, and I had to wait, just as I had to wait with this one, for several months before I could write my review. And, in that time, I had calmed down quite a bit. After the author promised me he would not make that kind of "mistake" again, I ended up giving the previous book 4 stars … and waited on pins and needles to receive this one.

This book, was all that I wanted it to be … and more. It had the espionage, the intrigue, the mystery, the … everything … that I expected from this author. And a story that kept me on my toes. I say that because, there were several moments that I was sure were going to go one way, and then, to my surprise, veered off in a completely different way. Trust me, when you are reading this, what you are anticipating will not likely be what ends up happening.

This book is full of the lies and deceit that I find so much fun to read about. And an ending that was just plain wow – so much so that I put the book down and picked it back up an hour or two later in order to re-read and make sure what I read was what was there. A movie ending could not have been better.

I still can't stand Nikki. I just want to point that out. I didn't like her in that book I spoke of earlier – and I didn't like her in this book. There were several occasions that I found myself pulling for her, hoping she would be able to succeed, but there are just so many things about her that I dislike. She does grow quite a bit in the story, going from a whiny, clingy woman that allows herself to be used, to a woman that does the using, but there is still something about her. And yet there is something about her that makes me want to read more.
    And in Nikki's defense, I don't like Chris anymore either – and I did like him in the last book.

In my interview of the author yesterday, he spoke of a projected eight more books for this series, and a couple of more to complete the book I spoke of earlier. I can't wait. The way this one ended was full of so much potential and drama and mystery. The questions were answered – but the next adventure has just begun.

REVIEW: The Escalante Enigma

The Escalante Enigma
Author: Rod Lewin
Pubisher: Outskirts Press
Publication date: 1.7.2014
Genre: Action & Adventure
Pages: 302

Date read: 5.21.2014
Recommended by: Bostwick Communications, Read 2 Review

When Ronnie McCall, Mitch Blaine's long-forgotten love, shows up out of the blue begging for help to locate her lost husband and brother – both US Air Force special ops officers who have disappeared in Texas – Mitch, an ex-Australian Air Force and airline pilot now living a sybaritic life on his own WWII PBY flying boat in Sydney Harbor, agrees to come to the rescue. Mitch and Beyer, his retired physicist partner, decide to literally fly to Ronnie's aid in the PBY, the Wayward Wind. Their flight across 8,000 miles of Pacific Ocean and into the vast, rugged, and unexplored canyons of the Escalante River in Utah is harrowing enough. But their attempts to trace the missing airmen turn dark and dangerous as they stumble upon something sinister and supernatural in the heart of the Navajo Nation. What they discover in that maze of mysterious Canyonlands turns out to be far more eerie, bizarre and deadly than they could ever imagine in their wildest dreams … The Escalante Enigma is an action-packed novel set in the heart of the American Southwest. Filled with high drama, the book is both gripping and beautifully rendered.

I really enjoyed reading this book, though it took me much longer than usual because I was reading it as a physical book (after 2+ years reading mostly on a Kindle, I have been ruined haha). It was fun, exciting, informative – the heart-stopping moment out over the water when the engines and electronics of the Wayward Wind suddenly stopped, yeah, riveting (you know you want to read it now, just to find out what I'm talking about, don't you?).

US Government and military (Air Force), two missing men, attempted murder, aliens, a lot of questions unanswered and information withheld, secret places no one knew of, people purposely trying to stop them – and others trying to help them along their way – plus all of the edge-of-your-seat moments lead to an awesome book that I didn't want to put down when I had to. And I was so unhappy when I got to the end of the book – not because it was bad or even that the ending wasn't good, but because the story was, in fact, over. (Thankfully, he is working on book #2 as I write this – and I have been lucky enough to have read the first two chapters).

No matter how much I loved this book, there were a few things that I disliked that stopped me from giving it 5 stars, but instead only a 4-4 ½.
  • I would have liked it a lot more if it weren't for the romance garbage. Put your tomatoes away – I have realized that not all romance is bad. But here, well … Mitch and Ronnie had been involved at one point (though it's mysterious how much) and she had failed to inform him that she was married at the time. Mitch had fallen in love with her and there is a part of him that still is. BUT she is married and he knows it. They are LOOKING FOR HER HUSBAND and yet he feels a couple of times that he is "falling in love with her all over again." I just felt it was disrespectful, though they never actually did anything, and his feelings, his leering, they just got in the way and became a little annoying.
  • Also, my favorite character in this book is Beyer – he is awesome – intelligent, engaging, mysterious, interesting – and he does go off on his little tangents, giving information that I guess could get annoying after a bit (though I was excited every time he did). He's also British – and some British people are a little … flamboyant, dramatic … with their way of speaking (and I LOVE it). I didn't like that Blaine KEPT pointing out that he was poking fun of the way Beyer talks (more than five times when, after the first time, we already knew) and KEPT getting so irritated with all the information that Beyer shared. Without Beyer, without all of his information, Blaine would have been completely clueless to solve the mystery, to even know where they needed to go. And Beyer was the one who provided all the money.
  • Another problem that I had was that the end was great, but maybe a little too easy.
Now, I have brought these issues to the attention of the author and he has assured me that there is no "romance garbage" in the second book AND that he will definitely rethink the way that Blaine reacts to Beyer – and that is all I can ask for.

Tangled Paths Blog Tour - Review

The Tazu Saga:
Way Walkers: Tangled Paths
Author: J Leigh
Publisher: Red Adept Publishing
Publication date: 4.7.2014
Genre: Fantasy, Coming of Age, Epic
Pages: 479

Date read: 6.2.2014
Recommended by: Read 2 Review

Twelve Ways create a thousand tangled paths.
    Hatched from an egg but unable to shift into dragon form, Jathen is a Moot among the Tazu. His rightful throne is forbidden him because of his transformative handicap, and neither his culture nor his religion offer acceptance of his perceived flaws.
    Driven by wounded anger, Jathen strikes out across the vast world beyond Tazu borders, desperate to find a place where he feels accepted and whole. Though he travels with the most trusted of companions, sabotage and conspiracy soon strike this quest. Jathen and his allies must struggle against man and magic alike, at the mercy of forces beyond their ken.
    As Jathen presses on, his questions of belonging are surrounded by more identity, loyalty, and betrayal. Where will the path of his destiny lead, and will he follow or fall?

I don't usually do this, but before I sat down to write this review today, I looked at the reviews others had left on Amazon. I have so much I want to say on this book and I wanted to see if others felt the same way that I did. I needed to get my thoughts in order.

First, I want to say that this is a very good book. It is an unusual story, highly unique, and the drama that runs through the story is very interesting. You learn a lot about their world, their city, their people, their religion in this book.

Second, Jathen and Thee are two really great characters – Jathen is not accepted among his people and, because of this, he has a bit of a temper, a bit of a snarky, sarcastic streak; Thee is his little sister and she really cares for him, spends time with him, stands up for him, and, from what I gathered, is his only real friend. There are other characters that, as I read through this book, I got to know more about and I think the character building was done really well. The world building, too – there were things they described (such as the palace) that I could literally see in my head - and isn't that what we want from the books we read, to be able to see the story play out before our eyes?

Third, the book left me wanting more – more action, more story, more everything. Having interviewed the author, I know that there is more to come, not only with the Way Walkers, but a few novels from "before" that will be coming out when Way Walkers is through, and I am excited to read these.

But then we come to "fourth," and the reason that I chose to give this book a 4 instead of a 5 – the reason I looked at those other reviews and only noticed one point it out – there is a lack of real action in this book AND there were points that I felt like I was on information overload. This book is full of information and the information is great and written really well - the moments between characters run the gambit of emotion - but I wanted more to happen. Now, I know when people write a trilogy or a series, they have a plan of what is happening in each book and, when you have a longer story like that, you need to give out a lot of info, but I am also one of those people that want action stuck in amongst that.

Please, don't let that last paragraph stop you from reading this book because I think, as I said before, it is a really good book with great characters – and I can only imagine how much better the series is going to get as each book happens – and, as I saw from the other reviews, maybe I'm one of the minority when it comes to this action thing. I mean, I have been known to grow rather bored with an action packed book when it slows down some.

Great job, Jaime. Let me know when the next book is out because I can't wait to get my hands on it.