Friday, November 2, 2012


I know, I know, it's been forever.  Well, I have a new project I've undertaken and in fact a new blog

The project is called 6 Years, 45,000 Pages and it involves me reading through a list of 100 classic works of literature before my 30th birthday.  On the new blog I post regular updates on my progress as well as new vocabulary words I've learned and quotes that I like from the books I'm reading. 

The project is also on Facebook and Twitter so you can follow and like me there.

Hope to see you over there and happy reading!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: The Thread

DETAILS: The Thread by Victoria Hislop. Copyright 2011. Historical fiction.

SUMMARY: Set in Thessaloniki, Greece, this is a story of love and friendship that spans two World Wars.

PROS: This is a beautiful, sweeping book.  It moves at a perfect pace and is just the right length.  The setting is so real, I felt as thought I'd been to Greece after reading it and the characters are human and engaging and believable.  I often have a complaint with historical fiction that they tend to wax poetic about the scenery or the setting for far too long, but this book captured the essence without overwriting.  I loved the story and I loved the unique perspective on the World Wars from a part of Europe that seems often forgotten.

CONS: None.

BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful book.  Highly recommended.  Five stars out of five.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Book Review: Emancipation

**I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads for the purpose of writing an honest review**

DETAILS: Emancipation: A Civil War Vampire Novel, Book One of The Thirsty Ones, by Pauline Ray. Copyright 2012. Historical fantasy.

SUMMARY: When plantation owner's daughter Ella Lantry's child with her slave boyfriend is taken away from her, she is determined to get him back; even if it means teaming up with the vampires that roam the land.

PROS: This book was fast-paced and engaging.  It was a combination vampire-alternate history book which I found unique in many ways.  I liked the character of Ella who is a little innocent, but vengeful to a max. The story makes sense, the character's motivations are well thought out.

CONS: Some of the black slaves talk in such thick dialect that it can be hard to read.  I could have done without some of that.  Also some of the violence and cruelty perpetrated by the white plantation owners, while possibly realistic, was hard to stomach.  This book is the first in a trilogy and the end left quite a bit hanging, which I didn't like.

BOTTOM LINE: A good, unique historical vampire book.  Three stars out of five.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Book Review: The Happiness Project

DETAILS: The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Copyright 2009. Memoir/self-help

SUMMARY: New York City writer Gretchen Rubin undertakes a one-year project to make herself happier.

PROS: This is a wonderful book and I enjoyed it very much.  Ms. Rubin is charmingly self-depreciating and funny and her book is helpful and enjoyable.  I especially enjoyed her "Secrets of Adulthood," a list of lessons she has learned as she has gotten older.   She includes comments from her blog on the subject which were interesting in that they showed other people's perspectives on the issues.  I often found myself saying, "Oh, I know exactly what she means by that!" which is something I enjoy when I read books like this.

CONS: None.

BOTTOM LINE: This book is practical and funny and reminiscent of the Dalai Lama's The Art of Happiness and Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love.  Five stars out of five.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Book Review: You Are Not Like Other Mothers

DETAILS: You Are Not Like Other Mothers by Angelika Schrobsdorff.  English version copyright: 2012. Original German copyright: 1992.  Historical fiction.

SUMMARY: A story of love, culture and motherhood following a family of German Jews before and during World War II.

PROS: This story was very interesting.  The author is a contemporary and reading a World War II story from the perspective of German Jews was very interesting.  The writing was very well done and the attitudes were, I imagine, very similar to those of people in those days.

CONS: The characters were not very relatable, I thought.  I didn't particularly enjoy the first third of the book and I found the mother in the story very spoiled and annoying.  Perhaps this was a product of the translation, but the author very strangely switched back and forth between first and third person, often within a single paragraph, which was very distracting.  Also, this book is divided into three sections and beyond that, there are no chapters.  Again, this may be something that got "lost in translation" but it made it difficult to find a stopping place.

BOTTOM LINE: This was a unique and often enjoyable World War II story.  Three stars out of five.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Book Review: Growing Up Amish

DETAILS: Growing Up Amish by Ira Wagler. Copyright 2011. Memoir.

SUMMARY: Ira Wagler grew up in an Old-Order Amish community in Ontario.  At seventeen he left the community for the first of many times and this book chronicles his early life as well as his later struggles.

PROS: I, like many Americans, have a strange fascination with the Amish people.  They hold a level of intrigue and romance that we are drawn to.  There were many interesting parts of this book as he shares his personal experiences with the Amish people and the struggles he faced when he decided to walk away.

CONS: Some of the narrative was a little disjointed it seemed.  The rest of my complaints about this book are purely subjective.  I was looking and hoping for something that was a little more about the practices and beliefs of the Amish community and this book was much more of a chronicle of Mr. Wagler's personal and spiritual struggles, set against the backdrop of the Amish.  The back of the book called it "heartwarming" but honestly I thought it was just kind of sad.  By the fourth or fifth time that Mr. Wagler returned to the Amish community, got fed up and left, I was a little tired of the same pattern.  While I realize that in real life, we aren't blessed with the luxury of hindsight, I did get a little annoyed with his repetitive pattern of leaving and returning, leaving and returning.

BOTTOM LINE: This book is interesting and somewhat informative about the Amish, but wasn't great.  Three stars out of five.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: Endangered

**I received a free copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads for the purpose of reviewing it**

DETAILS: Endangered: A Zoo Mystery by Ann Littlewood. Copyright 2012. Mystery.

SUMMARY: When zookeeper Iris Oakley is called in to deal with illegal exotic animals found during a drug bust, she doesn't know that she is about to get caught up in a dangerous mystery.

PROS: A case could be made that this book started off a bit slow, but the setting and information about the zoo are so interesting and unusual that you don't even notice.  The writing is tight and polished and the characters are refreshingly new.  I thought I had figured out whodoneit, but it turns out I was wrong.  By the two-third mark in this book, I couldn't put it down and ended up staying awake far past my bedtime to read the ending.  A very enjoyable and unique mystery.

CONS:   There were two or three "continuity" errors (it's a film term, but I'm not sure what the writing equivalent is) and a couple of typos which were a little distracting.  It seemed the book could have moved from four to five stars with maybe a couple fresh eyes reading through it.

BOTTOM LINE: Very good, gripping and original.  Four stars out of five.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: Live by Night

**I received a free advance copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads for the purpose of reviewing it.**

DETAILS: Live by Night by Dennis Lehane.  EXPECTED PUBLICATION: October 2, 2012.  Historical crime fiction.

SUMMARY: In this sequel to The Given Day, Thomas Coughlin's youngest son Joe strays from the family path of law enforcement and becomes an outlaw and gangster in Prohibition-era Boston and Tampa.

PROS: This is a very good gangster book that could rival any others.  Mr. Lehane once again proves to be a master storyteller.  I enjoyed this one more than it's prequel, The Given Day, both because I liked the character of Joe better than the characters in the other book, and because I felt the book had a bit more polish.  In The Given Day, I felt like it could have used a bit of trimming but this book was better paced.  The setting and characters satisfied any craving I would have for a good 1920's gangster book without resorting to the millions of cliches that setting has created over the years.

CONS: Without giving anything away, let me just say I didn't particularly like the ending, but it wasn't bad enough to detract from the rest of the book and also could probably be justified.  Also, and this is only sort of a con, Mr. Lehane once again demonstrates his almost-endearing habit of finding ever-more-creative ways to describe colors.  Although, to be honest, I rather like this vice of his.

BOTTOM LINE: Top-notch gangster book with almost a literary bent to it.  Five stars out of five.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Book Reading/Signing with Aminta Arrington

So the lovely Aminta Arrington, author of Home is a Roof Over a Pig, was kind enough to comment on my review of her book this morning.  She provided a link to her website, which has the photos I was wishing I could see while reading.  While I was there, I absently wandered over to her page that listed appearances, and, lo and behold! she was appearing in Seattle, three blocks down the street from me, today! 

So of course I went down to the Elliott Bay Book Company and got to meet Ms. Arrington.  She was very kind, asked about my blog and chatted for a bit.  There were only about ten or fifteen people there and she read selections from the first chapter of the book and then opened the floor for questions.   While she was reading, she had a presentation of pictures of places she read about which was nice.  After taking questions, she signed books for everyone.

All in all it was great fun and it was very nice to be able to put a face and a voice to the "lady in the book."  With all the coincidences that led to me being there, it was certainly in the stars too!

And I just want, again, to recommend her book, which was superb and which I think everyone should read, if only for the purpose of better understanding our neighbors to the east. 

Here is the book on Goodreads and on Amazon as well as a link to Ms. Arrington's well-constructed website.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Book Review: Home is a Roof Over a Pig

DETAILS: Home is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family's Journey in China by Aminta Arrington.  Copyright 2012.  Memoir.

SUMMARY: An American family with three small children, including an adopted daughter from China, move to China to teach English.  This book chronicles their journeys and examines the meanings of family, culture, language and education set against the backdrop of a small town in China.

PROS: I really enjoyed reading this book.  Ms. Arrington's writing is funny at times, poignant at others and always interesting.  She is transparent enough to admit when she has shortcomings, and those shortcomings make her very relatable and human.  Her examinations of the pictographs that make up the Chinese language were very interesting.  I enjoyed her look at the pros and cons of the Chinese education system. 

CONS: The only complaint I had was that I wish she had included some pictures to supplement the story.

BOTTOM LINE: I would recommend this book to anyone interested in foreign cultures or anyone with an adopted child.  Five stars out of five.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Book Review: Prepare

**I received a free copy of this book from the author for the purpose of reviewing it and I am grateful to him for that privilege.**

DETAILS: Prepare by Geoffrey Germann. Copyright 2012. Thriller.  Find it here on

SUMMARY: After seeing the violence and uncontrolled gang warfare in the region of the city known as "The Orchard," Darren Kiel begins dishing out some vigilante justice with a high-tech twist.

PROS: The action was well-written and fast-paced with lulls in just the right moments.  The plot was well thought out and made rational sense, which can sometimes be a sticky point with books like this.  Once I got into the story, I had a hard time putting the book down.  There was also a neat twist at the end that I didn't see coming and which didn't seem contrived simply for the sake of having a twist.  The back story of the characters was nicely dolled out in small quantities, as were the explanations for some of the main characters actions.

CONS:  The first couple of chapters I was a little confused as to the setting, which at first seemed to be almost a science-fiction-type world or maybe somewhere in the future.  I am a fan of "jumping right into the story" but a little more introduction as to the environment would have been nice.  There were also a couple of typos that I notice, although they easily could be printing errors.

BOTTOM LINE: This is a fast, enjoyable read with a very good plot.  Four stars out of five.

Book Review: Monday Mornings

DETAILS: Monday Mornings: A Novel by Sanjay Gupta, M.D.  Copyright 2012. Medical fiction.

SUMMARY: This book follows the fictional lives of a handful of neurosurgeons at Chelsea General Hospital as they explore love, life, death and loss.

PROS: The book is engaging, interesting and informative.  Dr. Gupta is a neurosurgeon himself and his knowledge and experience comes through.  He did a good job making the medical details easy to understand for lay persons without inserting fake explanations between people who should know what the other is talking about, something that  many writers find difficult to do.  The characters were realistic and well-rounded, with some you will love, some you will hate and many you will sympathize with.

CONS: Dr. Gupta seemed to have a little flair for the melodramatic in his writing which was occasionally distracting.    Also, it seemed all the main characters were former athletes of some sort.

BOTTOM LINE: This book was enjoyable, and I found it hard to put down in spots.  Obviously with my interest in medicine I was especially drawn to it, but I think anyone would find it fascinating.  Four stars out of five.

**Note: This book is being made into a television series by the same title, which I think could end up being good.**

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Book Review: The Unconquered

DETAILS: The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes by Scott Wallace. Copyright 2011. Adventure non-fiction.

SUMMARY: In 2002, National Geographic writer Scott Wallace and a group of thirty-four men, led by the director of Brazil's National Indian Foundation and comprised of a smattering of indigenous tribes of the Amazon as well as some adventurers, went in search of information about the flechieros, the People of the Arrow, one of the last uncontacted tribes of the Amazon.

PROS: I am still in awe of this book.  This may be one of the best books I've ever read.  I was a little concerned going in because as much as my Western curiosity wants to read about the "wild" Indians (and in this book they are referred to as Indians, not "Native Brazilians" or anything, so I will use that here), I know that contacting them, no matter how pure-intentioned the gesture may be, will almost certainly prove detrimental to their physical, emotional and social well-being.  This book alleviated all those concerns.  It combines the action, adventure, hardship of a early 1900's exploration of the Amazon with modern-day realizations and sensibilities regarding the Indians. 

CONS: None.

BOTTOM LINE: This book is incredible and I would recommend it to anyone who is at all interested in this subject.  Five stars out of five.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Book Review: The Given Day

DETAILS: The Given Day by Dennis Lehane. Copyright 2008. Historical fiction.

SUMMARY: Two families, one black and one white, struggle to live and love in the chaos and uncertainty in the US following World War I.

PROS: Excellently written with engaging, sharp characters and a very human plot, Mr. Lehane has created a very readable book.  I loved the setting and I learned a lot about the racial attitudes and the political climate of the time that I didn't know.

CONS: There were a few parts toward the end that I felt dragged a little.  I felt that the book could have been better if it had been tightened up a little.

BOTTOM LINE: I enjoyed this one very much and I am looking forward to the sequel, Live by Night which comes out October 2, 2012 and which I won on  Four stars out of five.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Book Review: Rogue

**I won a free advance copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads in order to review it.**

DETAILS: Rogue by Mark Sullivan. SCHEDULED RELEASE: October 2, 2012. Crime thriller.

SUMMARY: When Robin Monarch gets fed up with the CIA he works for after a job that isn't what he was told it was, he walks away and becomes a mercenary.  But now he has the biggest job of his life and the stakes are higher than they've ever been.

PROS: This books is well-written and doesn't lag, which is important, I think, in this genre.  Mr. Sullivan's plot is unique as far as I know, which is hard to do in an international crime novel, because so many of the same plots have been done over and over.  I especially enjoyed the way the plot played out in the end of the book.  His main character of Robin Monarch had an interesting back story, which, again, is nice in a genre filled with formula characters.

CONS: Some of the action and some of the plot points at the beginning were a little cliche, but not over the top. 

BOTTOM LINE: This book is certainly enjoyable and while not what I would call outstanding, it is fun to read.  Four stars out of five.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Book Review: Love in Mid Air

DETAILS: Love in Mid Air by Kim Wright. Copyright 2010. Women's fiction

SUMMARY: A thirty-something woman's marriage falls apart and she has an affair and a bunch of other stuff happens.

PROS: Honestly, the writing was fantastic.  The characters were dynamic, the story was engaging and it had none of the "slow bits" I so dread in a book.  It was also written in present tense, and I love it when writers successfully change up the "norm" with regard to tense and person.

CONS: Let me temper this by saying that I am not a prude when it comes to books.  I have read many books about divorce, affairs, etc. and generally they do not bother me.  This one bothered me a lot.  The author and the characters seemed to be of the opinion that ideally, a woman would have an affair and/or leave her husband.  Her husband was not abusive, not cruel, not anything that would make me say "run for the hills."  Mostly, she was just bored.  Now, I understand that women leave their husbands for this reason all the time, and I am not here to debate the validity of doing so.  What I objected to, was the attitude that if women all weren't such spineless pansies, we would have all ditched our men a  long time ago, that this was the ideal situation, when I think it clearly is not ideal at all.  Now divorce is a sticky subject, and I can't say I never agree with it, but affairs, in my opinion, are not.  I had a problem with the character constantly sneaking around behind her husband's back and seeming to feel no guilt or consequences from it.  I almost put the book down after the second or third chapter, but decided to give it a chance to see what the ending was.  Without giving anything away, let me just say that I was not satisfied.

BOTTOM LINE: If glorifying affairs and divorce does not bother you, you may very well like this book.  As for me, I have to give it two stars out of five.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Looking ahead!


Percent progress made on The Language of the Unheard: 0%

Rejections of Finding Innisburg: 0

Days until I go down to see my parents: 2

Awesome new book ideas: 1

Entries I have finished for a Kindle from the library: 4

So I won another book from! I am super stoked about this one; it's Dennis LeHane's new book (he wrote Shutter Island, one of my all-time favorites, and Mystic River) called Live by Night and it is scheduled to be released October 2nd.

So inspired by this winnage (no, that's not a word), I decided to fill you guys in on the books I'm looking forward to reading; specifically, books that have yet to be released.

1. The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman.  Scheduled release date: July 31, 2012. (historical fiction, something about a lighthouse)

2. The Impossible Rescue: The True Story of an Amazing Arctic Adventure by Martin W. Sandler Scheduled release date: September 11, 2012. (Historical fiction about a lost whaling expedition in the Arctic and the attempt to rescue them)

3. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin. Scheduled release date: August 21, 2012 (Historical fiction set in the Cascade foothills here in Washington about an orchardist who finds a couple of feral children)

4. The Double Game by Dan Festerman. Scheduled release date: August 21, 2012 (Story of espionage during the Cold War)

5. Miss me When I'm Gone by Emily Arsenault. Scheduled release date: July 31, 2012 (looks like a women's lit murder mystery.)

So what books are you looking forward to reading?

Book Review: Committed

DETAILS: Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Copyright 2010. Memoir.

SUMMARY: In the sequel to Eat, Pray, Love, Ms. Gilbert is "sentenced to marry" after her boyfriend is denied access to the US unless they get hitched.  While waiting for all the paperwork to go through, they travel around the world and Ms. Gilbert goes on her personal quest to understand and come to terms with marriage.

PROS: I loved Eat, Pray, Love and I was not disappointed with this one.  It has the same funny, relatable feel to it and it was still packed with those moments that I love where I thought: "Wow, I know exactly what she means but I have never seen it all spelled out like that."

CONS: I wish she had included a little bit more of her travel experiences and stuff and less history of marriage and things.  In parts it read a bit like a non fiction book about marriage and less like a memoir.

BOTTOM LINE: People who liked Eat, Pray, Love will not be disappointed and anyone who is on the fence about marriage will enjoy this too.  Four stars out of five.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Review: My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

DETAILS: My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young.  Copyright 2011. Historical Fiction.

SUMMERY: This book covers the lives of two very different couples in Europe during the first World War.

PROS: This book is one of the best, most unique and most satisfying war romance/dramas I've ever read.  Ms. Young captured perfectly what I imagine it would have been like to be in World War I.  The voice was very good, very period and the attitudes were perfect.

CONS: I have no complaints.

BOTTOM LINE: I loved this book.  However, a note for sensitive readers, this is probably an R-rated book for a few scenes, so beware if that bothers you.  Five stars out of five.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review: How to Eat a Cupcake

DETAILS: How to Eat a Cupcake, by Meg Donohue.  Copyright 2012. Chick lit (a note on my usage of this term. Some people would say chick lit is dead, and those people would probably classify this book as women's lit.  However, I like the term chick lit, and I feel women's lit is more with older protagonists i.e. over thirty, and maybe with more serious subject matter.  This is simply my opinion and my own personal usage, but the categories I assign books when doing reviews are simply my opinion and not necessarily the way the book has been marketed.)

SUMMERY: When Annie Quintana and her former best friend Julia St. Clair reunite after ten years, they decide to open a cupcake shop together and in doing so, have to overcome some of the tension between them.

PROS: This book was a fun, light read.  The cupcakes Ms. Donohue describe sound delicious and continually made me hungry! I enjoyed the fact that she threw in a little mystery/intrigue in the second half of the book, which is a little unusual in this genre.

CONS: It took me about half the book to really get into it.  I didn't connect with the characters, especially Julia, early on.  They both seemed abrasive and flat.  Ms. Donohue's prose is flooded with adjectives, sometimes adjectives upon adjectives, which sometimes made the narrative feel as if it were written by an amateur. 

BOTTOM LINE: This book was fun, especially the second half.  Three stars out of five.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Book Review: The Cat's Table

DETAILS: The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje. Copyright 2012. Commercial fiction.

SUMMERY: In 1954, an eleven-year-old boy catches a boat from Colombo to England.  While on board, he and his new young friends find themselves on all sorts of adventures.

PROS: This book is well-written and engaging.  While not high-action, it nevertheless has an intriguing way about it.  Mr. Ondaatje perfectly captures the mindset of an eleven year old boy let loose on the world with no supervision.  The setting and time period are fascinating as well.

CONS: None that I can think of.

BOTTOM LINE: This is an excellent book.  Five stars out of five.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Organizing Ideas


Total number of words on The Language of the Unheard: 52,251 (yeah, I haven't worked on it at all)

Rejections of Finding Innisburg: 0

Books read in the last week: 9.25

Entries into the library's drawing for a Kindle: 3

Well, first off, for anyone who has been keeping track, I passed my state nursing assistant exam on Thursday, so I'm officially a CNA.  Yay!

So today I want to talk about organizing.  Yeah.  I know.  Writers are not really known for their organizational skills, but I have finally won the battle against the random scribblings on pieces of paper and it's all thanks to Microsoft OneNote.  Here's what I do; feel free to share your own triumphs or struggles below.

I have a OneNote notebook entitled "Writing Info."  Into this notebook I throw everything I think might ever possibly be useful in a book.  I have tabs across the top that are labeled:  Writing Tips, Novel Ideas, Short Story Ideas, Characters, Tidbits, Settings, Screenplay Ideas, and Contests. 

Some of them are pretty self-explanatory, but I think my favorite one is Writing Tips.  I love to read writing "how-to" books and articles, and often a sentence or an idea will catch my attention, so I just copy and paste it right into that section.  The section is divided into various pages: characters, plotting, outlining, etc. and I just stick it where it belongs.  Then, when I'm brainstorming ideas for a new book, I read through all the ideas, incorporating each into my book.  I sincerely believe doing this has greatly increased my writing abilities and I would highly recommend it to anyone.

In the tab labeled "Tidbits" I just put interesting things that I run across that aren't going to turn into a stand-alone book or story (probably).  Right now in there I have a link to the Wikipedia article on numbers stations (which, even though they've been used in Lost, are really interesting), a quote I once read in a tabloid article about Johnny Depp that I felt would be perfect for a character to say someday, a few ideas for titles that have no stories to go with them, and on and on.  Someday I feel sure I'll find a home for them.

The rest of the tabs house pretty much what you'd expect, and I suspect, if I were to combine them all, that I have over a hundred separate ideas and thoughts in there, not counting the several hundred writing tips I have accumulated. 

So tell me, how do you organize your ideas and thoughts for future books or stories?

Book Review: Anne of Hollywood

DETAILS: Anne of Hollywood by Carol Wolper.  Copyright 2012. Chick lit.

SUMMERY: A rendition of the story of Anne Boleyn set in modern day Hollywood.

PROS: This was a good "escape" book or beach read.  I liked the way she had the story divided between four narrators, with three of them in third person and Anne's in first person.  It was clever and it worked.

CONS: I felt like Ms. Wolper tried too hard sometimes instead of just letting the story flow naturally.  The sex and drug references, while not unrealistic, felt forced and awkward.  I also thought she tried too hard to draw perfect parallels from the real story of Anne Boleyn, when the reality of a modern day adaptation is that sometimes you have to tweak the details.

BOTTOM LINE: This was okay if you're looking for a light, fun book, but I expected a little more.  Three stars out of five.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Book Review: The Paris Wife

~Random note: This is the third book I've read in the last week that has the word "wife" in the title.  That was not intentional but merely a strange coincidence.~

DETAILS: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.  Copyright 2011. Historical fiction.

SUMMERY:  Hadley Richardson was twenty-eight years old when she married Ernest Hemingway.  This book is a fictionalized account chronicling their five-year marriage and their time in the bohemian atmosphere of 1920's Paris.

PROS: I loved this book.  I knew nothing of Hemingway's person life going into this book and I thoroughly enjoyed looking at this portion through the (fictionalized) eyes of Hadley.  Ms. McLain perfectly captures the complexities and the ups and downs that go with any relationship, and she captures the feel of Paris in the 1920's perfectly (I imagine). 

CONS: There really is nothing I would change about this book. 

BOTTOM LINE: Absolutely superb.  I would recommend this book to anyone.  Five stars out of five.

Book Review: How to Become a Famous Writer...

DETAILS: How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead: Your Words in Print and Your Name in Lights, by Ariel Gore. Copyright 2007. Writing how-to, non-fiction

SUMMERY: Ariel Gore breaks down her advice for becoming a famous writer.

PROS:  This book was sometimes funny and irreverent and it contained some good interviews with famous authors.

CONS:  There was nothing really earth-shattering or new about this book.  I was disappointed over all and I don't feel like I learned much.

BOTTOM LINE: I wouldn't recommend this except maybe for the author interviews. Two stars out of five.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: The Historian

DETAILS: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Copyright 2005. Fantasy.

SUMMERY: A 16-year-old girl, accompanying her father on diplomatic missions around Cold War Europe, pieces together her family's history of searching for medieval vampires.

PROS:  I enjoyed this book a lot.  It's length is a bit daunting, but it is expertly told.  Ms. Kostova weaves a story within a story within a story with a great deal of care and precision, and the story is paced very nicely and often gripping.

CONS: There was a section of the book (the first half of the third part) that lost my attention a bit and I had to keep myself from skimming.  Also, with the myriad of characters that wind their way into the story, perhaps an old-fashioned character list would have been helpful.

BOTTOM LINE:  I debated a great deal whether to give this book four stars or five.  It is very good, and I would (and have) recommended it to many people.  However, I try to reserve my five-star reviews for books I will read many times, and this book, for me, is probably a one-time read.  So, four out of five stars.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Book Review: A Countess Below Stairs

DETAILS: A Countess Below Stairs, by Eva Ibbotson. Copyright 1981. YA historical fiction.

SUMMERY: Countess Anna Grazinsky and her family are forced to flee their native Russia following the Russian Revolution.  They end up penniless in England and Anna is forced to take a job as a maid for a local earl.  While there, she has to contend with her growing feelings for the earl and the ulterior motives of the earl's evil fiancee.

PROS: This is a light, fun book.  The ending wrapped up nicely and in a slightly unexpected way.  I enjoyed the setting and the idea of a displaced Russian countess.

CONS: The book was quite predictable and the characters were flat and unremarkable.  Anna seemed to have no difficulty adjusting to her life as a maid, even after a childhood in luxury.  She seem to be unrealistically without fault.  Frankly I thought the most interesting character was the earl's nasty fiancee.

BOTTOM LINE: This book is not bad but not particularly good.  Two stars out of five.



Total word count of The Language of the Unheard: 52,251

Number of form rejections for Finding Innisburg: 0

Number of requests for partials for Finding Innisburg: 1 (yay!)

Number of books read in the last three days: 4 (I'm a fast reader)

Days until my Certified Nursing Assistant exam: 2

So I have gotten hooked on the last few days.  I have found so many new books I want to read and from there I have sorted them, placed a few holds at the library and discussed book favorites with other members.  And best of all, they give away free books!!!  I know! FREE BOOKS!!!  Authors and publishers give them away before they are actually released in hopes of getting favorable reviews and a fan base.  There are no strings attached; if you win, you are encouraged to write a review, but it is not required. So I've been entering for everything that I feel like I might be interested in, and today I found out I won a book!

The book I won is Rogue, a thriller by Mark Sullivan.  It should come in 4-6 weeks and I'm pretty excited.  When it comes, I'll post a review here for you all.  It is being released October 2nd by St. Martin's Press.

So I would encourage all my reader readers (lol) to get on GoodReads and start entering drawings.  It's fun, and even if you don't win, it's a great way to find out about books you might be interested in reading before they even come out!

So I'm eagerly looking for new reading material, preferably books released in the last 2-3 years.  I like mysteries, thrillers, action-adventure, memoirs, literary fiction (if it's not too slow), chick-lit (no, it's not dead) and commercial fiction.  I don't like romance, stories with sad endings (with a couple of exceptions), erotica, stories about drug abuse, sex abuse, or prostitution.  So what would you recommend to me?  I want to know, please comment below!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Book Review: The Tiger's Wife

DETAILS: The Tiger's Wife: A Novel by Tea Obreht. Copyright 2011. Literary fiction.

SUMMERY: Natalia, a young doctor, is traveling to a remote town on the Balkan peninsula to deliver vaccinations to an orphanage.  While there, she finds out her grandfather has died, and spends the next couple of days dealing with myths, superstitions, and stories, both those of the locals, and the ones that her grandfather passed down to her.

PROS: Masterfully written, Ms. Obreht crafts a story that jumps back and forth through time without ever losing a reader.  Reality and myth are so perfectly entwined that readers begin to loose track of which is which.  The detail and precision of this story are so exquisite and selected so flawlessly that it reads more like a memoir than a novel.  Ms. Obreht is truly a literary talent and I look forward to reading her works for years to come.

CONS: The only flaw I could say is that I felt like the characters could have been a little more developed.  The story was beautiful, but I didn't relate to the characters particularly well.

BOTTOM LINE: Not action packed, but very readable with tangible settings and flavor-packed narrative.  Four stars out of five.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Book Review: A Reliable Wife

DETAILS: A Reliable Wife: A Novel by Robert Goolrick.  Copyright 2009. Historical literary fiction.

SUMMERY: It's Wisconsin, 1907.  Ralph Truitt has advertised for a wife, not for love but for convenience.  But when she comes, she is not what he expected, a woman with a hidden past and a secret agenda of her own.

PROS: The storytelling is masterful, the story is filled with unpredictable twists and turns.  Mr. Goolrick weaves a master tale of love, loss and lust that leads to an unforeseen but satisfying ending. I wondered many times what would happen, as I could see a thousand possibilities.  But the choices Mr. Goolrick made were not what I expected, but were more fitting and satisfying than the ones I had thought of.

CONS: The book seemed a little slow to get going, it took me a couple of chapters to get into it.  Occasionally I felt the descriptions went on a little long.  His habit (albeit surely an intentional one) of starting consecutive sentences with the same pronoun, grated on my nerves a bit.  Also a warning to readers of a sensitive nature: this book would be rated R for sexual content, so just be aware of that going in.

BOTTOM LINE:  The story is a little slow, but perfectly woven. Fans of Cormac McCarthy's writing will enjoy this book as well.  Four stars out of five.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Review: The House of Hope and Fear

DETAILS: The House of Hope and Fear:Life in a Big City Hospital, by Audrey Young, M.D. Copyright 2009. Medical non-fiction.

SUMMERY:  Dr. Young was an attending physician at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.  The book recounts her struggles and challenges at the largest public hospital in a four-state area.  She shares stories of specific patients, especially the "undesirable" patients: those that are homeless, drunk or drug-addicted, that come through Harborview's doors.  She presents the business side of the medical field; the challenge of balancing the budget, of under staffing and overcrowding.

PROS:  Dr. Young's narrative style is engaging and easy to read.  She does a good job of presenting the struggle to balance cost and quality of care and the human side to the medical field.  Her book is informative and well-rounded.  For me, as a pre-nursing student and a Harborview volunteer, I found the details of patient care fascinating.

CONS:  This is clearly intended to be a persuasive piece about health-care reform.  Not that this is necessarily negative, but the book is not purely objective. I wished there were more details of patient care and less about the business side of the hospital, but this is purely my opinion.  If I were not interested in the medical field, I probably would have found some of the details a little dry, but with my background, I did enjoy them.

BOTTOM LINE: Despite any blurbs that might suggest otherwise, this is not Grey's Anatomy.  I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the medical field, however, some other people might not find it as interesting.  Three stars out of five.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Screenwriting for Novelists


Total word count of The Language of the Unheard: 52,008

Number of form rejections for Finding Innisburg: 0 (not sure if this is good or bad)

Number of books you have to read and review for the Seattle Public Library system to be entered to win a Kindle: 3

Number of free book giveaways entered on 15

So now for our main topic.  Screenwriting.  Last summer I decided to attempt to write a screenplay.  Although I'm fairly convinced that I will never be a famous screenwriter (Hollywood has too many politics and rules and cliques.  I prefer good old-fashioned publishing), writing a screenplay may have been the best thing I ever did for my writing abilities.

Screenwriting in much, much different than novel writing.  I didn't even write an original screenplay, I just adapted one of my favorite novels, Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery.  Screenplays are the epitome of SHOW don't TELL.  In a screenplay you can't even write a phrase like "Tom, Joe's brother, enters the room."  Unless Tom is going to be wearing a sign around his neck that says "Joe's brother" you can't put it in the screenplay.  You have to find a way to work it into the dialogue.  This is tricky, let me tell you.

Descriptions of locations have to be kept short and sweet also.  In screenwriting, one page of properly formatted text = one minute of screen time (approximately).  So if a scene is going to be shown for three seconds before the characters start talking, you have to sum up the scene in only a line or two.  No long-winded pages of purple prose here.  The trick is to choose one or two details that "sum up" the scene.  Instead of saying "The farmhouse is old and blue.  There is a flower bed in front but the flowers are dead and brown.  The fence running behind the house is falling down and the barbed wire is rusty.  The grass is long, clearly no animals have grazed here in a while," you cut it down to the essentials: "The paint on the farmhouse is peeling and the rusty barbed wire is sagging into the overgrown grass."

In screenwriting, the specific details (the color of the house, or exactly how many plants are in front) are pointless to put in, because the director is not going to follow your directions that closely.  What you want is to make a point about WHAT KIND of farmhouse this is, and let the director follow through with the details.

In novel writing, the same principle can be applied, not because a director is going to come in and change it, but because leaving some details up to your readers imagination is crucial.  Unless this is a classic Martian farmhouse, a reader will be able to fill in the scene without you spelling out every detail.  Pick a few things that sum up the feel of the scene and leave the rest out.  Over describing can pull a reader out of the scene, while the right choice of details can make them feel like they're right there with you.  Of course, if they were to draw what they pictured the farmhouse looking like, it might not be how you pictured it at all, but that's okay.  When a book is read, the reader brings his or her own experiences to the table and views the story against the backdrop of his or her life. 

So if you've ever been curious about writing a screenplay, even if you have no intention of selling it, I would absolutely recommend it.  Screenplays are short and sweet.  At 90-120 sparsely-filled pages, they are much faster to write than a novel, and you just might learn a thing or two about writing in the process.  I would highly recommend the book How Not to Write a Screenplay by Denny Martin Flinn for anyone thinking of undertaking this project.  The book covers formatting, plotting and everything else you need to know.  Also, every April the NaNoWriMo people have a screenwriting month called Script Frenzy, in which screenwriters attempt to write 100 pages of a screenplay in a month.

Happy Noveling!

P.S. If any of you noveling folks are on, you should friend me!  My user name is Annakaris

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On libraries, planning and psyching myself out

Word count on The Language of the Unheard: 51,012

Form Rejections on Finding Innisburg: 1 (so far.  Although it's almost 9 PM in NYC so that's probably it for tonight.

Super nice emails from the Agency Gatekeeper: 1

Volunteer Hours at Harborview Medical Center: 3

Holds placed at the library: 3

So about a year ago, I went on a library borrowing spree, checked out a TON of books, and then couldn't get myself over to the library to return them until they were...pretty late.  So I've had about 40 dollars in late fees that I have been putting off paying, and as a result, I have been buying books instead of borrowing them from the library.  Finally I realized that didn't make any financial sense, and I really wanted to read some new books (not ones I could find for cheap at the used bookstore next door), so I am going to go into the library tomorrow and pay my fees.  And from now on, I'm going to be good and return my books on time.  And I placed three holds on books from my GoodReads "to read" list.

I'm mulling over ideas for my next book(s).  For NaNoWriMo, I think I'm going to attempt my first fantasy novel but between now and then, I'm going to try to outline another book to write after the fantasy novel is finished.  The problem is, I have about four ideas and I can't decide which one I want to do.  So that's where you come in.  Here are the four choices, so leave me a comment and tell me which one you think you'd most like to read.

A.  A paranormal thriller about a little boy sucked into a creepy wormhole by an evil child, and his sister's quest to get him back.

B.  A historical fiction novel about a female pirate.  NOT a romance novel, more action-adventure.  Set in the golden age of piracy (1700's-ish)

C.  A mystery novel about a woman who was given a necklace many years earlier by Elvis, and discovers that it holds the secret to a series of murders.

D. A journalist goes undercover as a prostitute and gets mixed up with the mob/a gang and has to fight for her life and the life of her young child.

So anyway, tell me what you think!

I've been reading a lot of blogs and writing sites lately and I have to keep remembering not to get too caught up in trends.  It's not so much that I want to write books that are trendy, that's never really been  desire of mine, but when I have an idea for a book, and then I read something that says that books like that are "out" I get freaked out.  For example, my fantasy novel that I'm planning for NaNoWriMo, is technically a "portal fantasy" and apparently portal fantasy is not cool anymore.  But I am reminding myself to write what I love and not worry about it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Works in Progress

So it's summer vacation, the weather is finally nice here in Seattle, and here's what I've been up to.

First of all, I added about eleven thousand words to "Finding Innisburg" my NaNoWriMo novel from 2010.  It was originally only about 51,000 words, but at the advice of several people, I fleshed it out a little, and extended the ending and it now stands at a more respectable 62,000 words.

Then I re-wrote my query letter, after reading all the archives at Query Shark and rewrote my synopsis and then began to query agents for the second time.  I've decided it's do or die right now for "Innisburg."  If this round of querying doesn't produce an agent, I'm going to move on, and maybe someday it can be the second book of a two-book deal or something.

But the good news is, I've had two requests for full manuscripts, so that's nice.

Then I finished my zombie novel from last summer, which is currently titled "The Language of the Unheard."  I wrote about 30,000 words of it last year so I added another 20,000 to finish the story.  Fortunately I had done a pretty extensive outline for it before I wrote it, so I was able to pick up where I left off.  Now I'm going back and editing/fleshing it out as well.

I also, while procrastinating from working on my real projects, have been doing some fun research for a couple other books.  If I don't get into nursing school in the fall, I'm probably going to try to do NaNoWriMo again this year, and maybe I'll write another book before then.  Anyway, I have a couple ideas for books that I think will be awesome: a fantasy novel, a contemporary thriller, a historical action-adventure and a mystery.  So we'll see.

In my non-writing spare time, I've been volunteering at Harborview Medical Center and getting ready to take my nursing assistant state exam next week.  Plus I just discovered (I know, where was I this whole time!) Miss Snark and I read every single blog entry she ever did in about a week.  I'm also loving a couple of other agent blogs: Agency Gatekeeper and her former intern (Internet Famous Intern)'s blog So anyway, if you know anymore fabulous writing/agenting blogs, let me know!

Happy Writing!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Update and 100th Entry

Well, I figured I shouldn't let a whole year go by without posting a new entry, so let me update you on what I've been doing.

Since September I've been going to school full time at a community college in Seattle.  I'm taking prerequisites with the hope of getting into nursing school in the fall.  I have taken anatomy and physiology, psychology, nutrition, math, chemistry, microbiology and a class to become a certified nursing assistant.  As of this week, I am officially done with my prerequisites for nursing school.  Over the summer I won't be doing anything except hopefully some writing!

I am mulling over a new idea for a book, so we'll see where that goes. 

Just wanted to say hi!